OPINION – Why the English contingent will lead the Raiders to their first NRL Premiership since 1994

Now, before you bite my head off claiming that the 2019 NRL will be a two horse race between the Minor Premiership winning Melbourne Storm, and the second-placed Sydney Roosters, hear me out.

As we saw only a matter of weeks ago in Round 22 against the league leaders, the Raiders are capable of defying the odds when they handed the Storm only their second  home loss of the season in a scintillating clash that saw Canberra come from behind to win 18-22 at AAMI Park.

The most interesting part of this match was the fact that with 12 minutes to go in the first half, the Raiders were looking out of the game at 18-0 down. Not many teams can overcome an 18-point deficit away at the Storm, but that is exactly what they did when front-rower Josh Papalii crashed over the whitewash with only 4 minutes left on the clock to put the Raiders ahead.

This win showed character. To be 18-0 down to anybody in the NRL and come back to win is a tough ask, but to do it against a team that had only lost once at home all season is quite astonishing. Raiders teams of recent years would have continued to leak points in that second half, but not the Raiders of 2019.

The difference this season could well be put down to John Bateman. The Yorkshire-man has been outstanding so far throughout the campaign and has become somewhat of a cult hero to the Canberra fans. The ex-Wigan man was recently voted as ‘NRL Buy of the Year’ by a panel that consisted of 18 ex-players and journalists on NRL.com. His work rate is second-to-none and looks certain to follow in the footsteps of fellow Englishmen, James Graham and Sam Burgess as standout players in the sport’s best competition.

Bateman has had a massive impact for the Raiders who have improved substantially from 2018. They finished 10th on the ladder last season, which saw them miss out on Finals football, and now, they are set to play in the NRL playoffs for the first time since 2016, proving just how Bateman, as well as other star performers, have been so integral to an already successful season for the Raiders.

But it’s not only John Bateman who is proving vital to the Raiders’ success this year. The contributions of Ex-Bradford and Catalan star Elliot Whitehead, and ex- Hull KR hooker Josh Hodgson cannot be overlooked. The way Hodgson steers the Raiders around the park is simply phenomenal and Whitehead is yet to take a backward step from anyone since signing for the Raiders back in 2016. We can also appreciate the performances of Ryan Sutton, who signed for the Raiders alongside Bateman for the 2019 season. He may be more of an impact interchange than the others, but his efforts off the bench have been very solid.

All of these players should be expecting a call from Wayne Bennett for the forthcoming tour of the southern hemisphere in October and November of this year, and I for one, am looking forward to seeing them don the Golden Lion of Great Britain when coming face-to-face with some of the world’s best in tests against Tonga, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

With the fiery, dogged performances that Bateman, Whitehead and Sutton produce, as well as the class and poise of Josh Hodgson, there is no reason why the Raiders can’t go all the way this season. With the pace and skill of their outside backs Nick Cotric and Jordan Rapana, as well as their star full-back Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, who earlier today put pen to paper, signing a new deal which will see him reside in the nation’s capital until the end of 2023, the Raiders are definitely contenders to be competing for the big one on the 6th of October.

The future is also looking bright for the Raiders as earlier this season, it was announced that they were adding one more England international to their ranks, with the signing of George Williams for the 2020 season and beyond. Williams will become Canberra’s third player signed from the Wigan Warriors in the last two seasons and will look to kick on from the Raiders’ good season when he joins them in the off-season.

So, hopefully now I have convinced you to not rule out the Raiders just yet, but let me know what you think. Will Canberra be able to take down the high-flying Storm and lift The Provan-Summons Trophy, or will they fall short of the big prize come October?