It is easy to write the Canberra Raiders off in 2021 – after all – they have lost beloved Englishman John Bateman back to the mother country and explosive outside back Nick Cotric to Canterbury-Bankstown.
You will find that most season predictions over recent seasons have the Raiders there or thereabouts.
Easy to forget them.
Ricky Stuart’s ‘battlers’, tucked away from Sydney, doing whatever they can to stay under the radar.
But the absence of Bateman and Cotric highlights why they should actually be considered one of the favourites for the 2021 premiership.
You’re entitled to think of the young gun Penrith Panthers or the Sydney Roosters or Melbourne Storm first.
The South Sydney Rabbitohs will be there when the whips are cracking too.
Let’s look at what the Raiders did last year.
As good a bloke and player Bateman was – the Raiders didn’t miss him in 2020 as much as you’d think.
The Raiders started the season without the second-rower and went 7-4 before his return in round 12 which included three straight victories to begin the year.
And while all the talk has been about Bateman and Cotric’s exits – everyone understands that they will have the second best hooker on the planet back on deck too.
Or is Josh Hodgson now number one?
Has Cameron Smith retired?
When Hodgson went down with an ACL injury in round ten last season, Channel Nine expert Johnathan Thurston called Canberra’s season over.
Could the Raiders do anything in 2020 without Josh Hodgson?
“No – he’s as important as Cameron Smith is to Melbourne,” Thurston told Channel Nine’s TODAY Show the following day.
“He is too crucial to their team and with him on the sidelines now for an extended period, more likely the season, I can’t see them going all the way.”
Granted they didn’t make the decider but bloody hell they gave it a shake with rookie rake Tom Starling thrown in.
In fact, the ‘Green Machine’ went 9-2 after Hodgson’s injury and then eliminated Cronulla and the Roosters from the finals before bowing out to eventual premiers, Melbourne.
Pressed after the injury of Hodgson, coach Ricky Stuart spat venom.
“I don’t give a shit what other people think,” Stuart said.
“We won’t get out heads down, I promise you. We won’t get our heads down.”
They never do.
While they’ve lost Bateman back to the United Kingdom, another vital cog is a fellow Englishman in halfback George Williams who flourished in his rookie NRL season.
His combination with partner-in-crime, a bloke named Jack Wighton, could blow the competition apart this year.
For those playing at home, Wighton snared the Dally M Medal last year and will be even better in 2021.
Throw all that in with an engine room that includes Josh Papalii, Joe Tapine, Emre Guler, Elliott Whitehead, Corey Horsburgh, Dunamis Lui, Sia Soliola, Ryan Sutton, Hudson Young and recruit Ryan James and you have a serious rugby league team.
Get your money on the Raiders.
They’re never going away.