Rugby league fans know that a team’s spine is crucial in creating success. Glory in September is near impossible a strong unit of key playmakers. With that being said, it’s time to take a look at each club’s spine and rank them from best to worst ahead of the 2019 season.
Kicking things off in 16th place is the Canberra Raiders. Sorry to say it Green Machine fans, but it looks like it could be a long season ahead in the Nation’s Capital for Ricky Stuart’s men. Key player departures, positional changes and inexperience have left the Raiders with what looks to be a largely unsettled spine.
Pressure will be on their experienced playmakers to produce their best form consistently if the 2016 preliminary finalists are to return to finals football. Let’s take a closer look at the make-up of Ricky Stuart’s spine this season.
Fullback: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
The late off-season recruit has turned plenty of heads since arriving in Canberra in early February. So much so that club captain Jarrod Croker has all but confirmed the fleet-footed former Warrior will be lining up in the No.1 jersey this season ahead of Jack Wighton’s shift to five-eighth.
Nicoll-Klokstad’s limited time in first grade has left little doubt over his clear athleticism and natural talent. His size, speed and explosive agility is enough to get any Canberra fan excited about their new kid on the block.
With that being said, Nicoll-Klokstad did not play any first-grade football last year and has only played seven games in the top grade to date, all of which were on the wing in 2017.
Despite his obvious talent and potential, it is a huge risk for Ricky Stuart to hand the custodian responsibilities to a young player who is yet to play a single first-grade game at fullback, possibly leaving Canberra vulnerable in this position.
Five-eighth: Jack Wighton
The departure of Blake Austin to the Warrington Wolves has left the Raiders’ No.6 jersey vacant. Although Canberra have a number of players who have played most of their football in the halves on their roster, such as Sam Williams and Ata Hingano, Ricky Stuart looks set to hand incumbent fullback Jack Wighton the first opportunity at five-eighth.
Although Wighton has been a consistently good performer for Canberra in recent season, almost all of his football has been played at fullback. Ricky Stuart has previously experimented with Wighton at five-eighth, playing him in the No.6 for only a handful of games in 2014.
Strong carries with ball in hand have been a main feature of Wighton’s game, however he has not been renowned as one of the ball-paying fullbacks of the competition and is yet to showcase a kicking game in general play.
Hence, there are big question marks over whether the local junior’s game is best suited to a role in the halves. Either way, it is likely it will take Wighton some time to adjust to his new position.
Halfback: Aidan Sezer
Aidan Sezer is well and truly in the hot seat in season 2019. There will be added responsibility heaped on his shoulders as the only genuine half in the Raiders line-up, while being surrounded by less experienced players in other key positions.
It is evident that the responsibility to steer the Raiders around the park will be placed upon the former Titan, as well as the bulk of general play kicking.
It is a big ask for a playmaker that has not consistently reached his best form since Canberra’s stellar season of 2016. Sezer’s ability to handle this extra responsibility will have a significant bearing on whether his team can end their two-year stint outside the top eight.
Hooker: Josh Hodgson
English dynamo Josh Hodgson has consistently proven that he is one of the elite hookers in the competition since arriving from Hull KR in 2015. While he was recovering from an ACL injury, his absence from the opening half of the 2018 season was obvious and left a gaping hole in the Raiders’ spine.
His ability to manipulate opposition defenders through constant scheming around the ruck, clever kicking game and tireless defensive work rate is irreplaceable.
He is clearly the leading light among the Raiders’ playmakers this season, but it remains to be seen whether the efforts diminutive Englishman will be enough to send his team up the competition ladder in 2019.