9 January 2023

Three big questions to be resolved by the Canberra Raiders in the 2023 NRL season

| Tim Gavel
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Canberra Raiders 2022 Elimination Final team. Photo: Raiders.com.au.

Will sentiment get Croker in the 300 Club, or will he be denied by the ‘footy gods’? Photo: Raiders.com.au.

Jarrod Croker played just one game in 2022, leaving him stranded on 292 games for the Raiders.

The shoulder injury, which required a reconstruction, was a cruel blow given his battle to return in the 2022 season Round 9 game against the Bulldogs.

Croker had fought his way back into the NRL side through the NSW Cup, with endless bus trips up the Hume Highway, only to have his season end in May.

Since then, he has spent plenty of time in rehab to be in the best position possible for selection in the 17 for the opening game against the Cowboys on 4 March.

There are many obstacles, though, not the least being Sebastian Kris and Matt Timoko. Kris, in particular, was outstanding in the centres for the Raiders, crossing for 14 tries in 2022.

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Also on the comeback trail from a knee reconstruction is Harley Smith-Shields, who impressed before suffering a season-ending injury.

With eight games required to reach the 300 milestone, many hope Croker gets an opportunity.

But at 31 years of age, he is well aware that sentiment plays virtually no role at the selection table.

The second question relates to Xavier Savage and his ability to cope with the physical and tactical demands of the NRL.

Xavier Savage. Photo: Raiders.com.au.

Will Xavier Savage’s quest for size be at the cost of blistering speed? Photo: Raiders.com.au.

At 90 kilos, there were times last season when opposition teams rag-dolled him. Mind you, they had to catch him first. His blistering speed is his greatest gift.

But when it came to fullback play, there were times when he was left out of position.

The hope is that he spent plenty of time in the gym building up during the off-season and that this doesn’t impact his exceptional speed. Also, that he has worked on his positional play.

The third question relates to the Raiders’ ability to develop a ball-playing 13 in the mould of an Isaiah Yeo, who has revolutionised the position.

The Raiders were on the road there with Adam Elliott, but his departure to Newcastle has left a hole.

Will Corey Harawira-Naera be that player, or will it be Elliott Whitehead or Corey Horsburgh?

Harawira Naera with supporters in Melbourne following the Raiders win. Photo: Raiders.com.au.

Cory Harawira-Naera with Raiders fans in Melbourne. Photo: Raiders.com.au.

There are other questions that will no doubt be raised in 2023, including the Raiders’ pursuit of Titans forward David Fifita.

I don’t believe the departures of Josh Hodgson and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad will have a major impact.

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Hodgson only played one game in 2022 before being injured, while Savage was clearly the first-choice fullback by the season’s end.

Yet considering all that we know about the Raiders, there are many reasons to be optimistic in 2023.

Original Article published by Tim Gavel on Riotact.

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