Canberra Raiders determined to avoid Gold Coast repeat


Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has had a massive focus on defence, but also spent the pre-season teaching his team how to close out games.

“We got out to a three-try lead in the first 20 minutes and lost right at the end,” Canberra No.14 Siliva Havili said.

“It was the story of our season last year. We’ve addressed that over the pre-season and we’re looking forward to going out there and getting the job done.

“It’s really important to us to get that big start. It’s going to set ourselves up for the season. If we can play that Raiders footy right throughout the whole 80 minutes it’ll definitely get us some good results.”

Raiders captain Jarrod Croker said it was important to turn around their slow starts to seasons – not only to begin with a win, but also to get the lime green army on board and “pack out” Canberra Stadium when they return home for round two.

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They have back-to-back home games after their Gold Coast road trip, hosting the Melbourne Storm in round two and the Newcastle Knights the following week.

The Raiders lost their opening four games last season, while they also dropped three of the opening four in 2017.

Croker wants to change all that on Sunday.

“It’s just about round one for us and getting off to a good start and getting away with the two points,” he said on Thursday.

“We traditionally haven’t had a great start the last couple of years. We’ve left ourselves chasing our tails a little bit too much in the last couple of years.

“So getting off to that start’s massive and even more importantly for us we’ve got two home games in a row after that and we want massive crowds and pack the place out.

“So start well up there, get the two points and really get Canberra rolling the two weeks after that.”

Croker was confident star centre Joey “BJ” Leilua was in the best shape he’s been in since joining the Green Machine in 2015.

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Leilua was the Raiders’ leading try scorer last season with 14, but was at his electrifying best in 2016.

But he missed their trial against the Canterbury Bulldogs in Bega due to a slight hamstring strain.

It meant he missed his chance to get any match practice under his belt before the season opener.

But Croker was confident it wouldn’t be a problem.

“I don’t think so. BJ would’ve played 50 or 60 minutes if he played that trial game,” Croker said.

“The only guys that played the 80 were myself and Jacko, and that was my first game back and Jacko’s first game in the front line.

“A lot of the other boys didn’t play a massive amount of minutes there. I’m sure BJ will be fine.

“I’m not sure stats-wise what his condition is, but I know it’s the best I’ve seen him, it’s the best I’ve seen him train, it’s the most I’ve seen him apply himself in the pre-season and that just excites me in itself.”

NRL ROUND ONE

Sunday: Canberra Raiders v Gold Coast Titans on the Gold Coast, 6.10pm. Live on Fox League.

David Polkinghorne covers the Canberra Raiders, local rugby league, Canberra Cavalry, racing and cycling, along with every other sport, for The Canberra Times.

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