Season 2015 gets underway for the Green Machine.
It’s the battle of last year’s cellar-dwellers for the Canberra Raiders and Cronulla Sharks in round one at Remondis Stadium on Sunday night.
The Sharks took out the least-coveted prize, the wooden spoon, last year—while the Raiders weren’t much better. Both sides will need to adopt a 'the-only-way-is-up' philosophy as they enter the first game of the season.
For the visiting Raiders they have had an indifferent pre-season, and with quite a number of changes to the squad, are a bit of an unknown prospect. Ricky Stuart has named what seems like the strongest team possible.
New recruits Josh Hodgson, Iosia Soliola, Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Sisa Waqa will all provide plenty of grunt to the side—and more importantly plenty of experience. Waqa in particular showed at the Nines just how dangerous he could be partnering new captain Jarrod Croker on the left edge.
Jack Wighton has been selected as the first-choice number-one, and if he can replicate the form he had at the end of last season then the side should be in safe hands at the back. The playmaking combination of Mitch Cornish and Blake Austin is still an unknown commodity, but is full of potential for success.
Cap off the squad with the likes of Shaun Fensom, Paul Vaughan and the dynamo Edrick Lee, and there is plenty to be optimistic about.
[quote]Both sides will need to adopt a 'the-only-way-is-up' philosophy as they enter the first game of the season. [/quote]
However, the Raiders’ opposition is a far different proposition to the side that was presented last year. Most notably, the Cronulla Sharks have seemingly put all the sagas of the last few years to bed, once and for all.
Building upon that new beginning, the side from the shire has two key signings in particular to create plenty of anticipation. Michael Ennis, the tenacious former Bulldog, and Ben Barba, the enigmatic dynamo looking to bring back his best, will both line up for their new club this week.
The other most notable player to look at in this opening match is the feisty captain Paul Gallen, who will be out to prove a point this year—and there will be no better chance to do this first up than against the player who has become his nemesis in Josh Papalii.
The Sharks should also take confidence from their pre-season form, especially the skill and resolve they exhibited in the Auckland Nines, and in particular the epic final against the Rabbitohs.
As with the first round every year, it can be tricky to land on one side of the fence in games like these. Pre-season form means little, and there aren’t too many hard facts or statistics to back up any predictions. The Sharks deserve favouritism in this one, given the proven star-power of their roster, as well as the home ground advantage.
But the Raiders boast one thing: the power of the unknown. That uncertainty could just create enough spark to get them over the line. Let the games begin.
Raiders or Sharks in round 1?