Rugby League

Canberra Raiders favourite for NRL wooden spoon

Canberra centre Jarrod Croker insists the Raiders have enough back-line strike power to compensate for the loss of star Anthony Milford.

Croker has revealed he played most of the 2014 NRL season with an injured knee that has since required surgery.

The Raiders have opened NRL premiership betting as favourites for the wooden spoon, rated $4 to finish last, $5 to make the top-eight and $251 outsiders to claim the minor premiership.

The Raiders have finished with the spoon only once, in their inaugural 1982 season, but have narrowly avoided it after finishing second-last twice in the past four seasons, including 2014.

The loss of the livewire Milford to the Brisbane Broncos has bookies betting the Raiders will be less potent in attack in 2015. But Croker, who had his best individual season in 2014, backed a fully fit Raiders back line to fire.

Strike winger Edrick Lee missed all but eight games last season because of a broken foot, while Jack Wighton also missed four games with a broken thumb before finishing the year with an exciting switch to fullback.

The Raiders will inject back-line recruits Blake Austin at five-eighth and winger Sisa Waqa, Melbourne's leading try scorer last season with 18.

Croker also finished with 18 tries in a breakout individual season, but revealed he had battled on since round 10 with a torn meniscus in his knee.

"We're not allowed to bet, so it doesn't really bother me," Croker said when asked about the Raiders' odds. "They seem to write us off every year, I'm pretty confident with the squad we've got.

"Milf's got a bit of that X-factor, but we we've moved on from Milf and he's moved on from us. I think we've got a backline with strike power, we've got Jack Wighton, Sisa Waqa, Edrick Lee, Blake Austin ... there's plenty of X-factor in those players.

"There's also a lot of competition for spots at the moment, which will only help. No one's safe, there's pressure on everywhere. I think [coach Ricky Stuart] has shown before it doesn't matter who you are, how many games you've played or how good you are, it comes down to how hard you want to train and how much you want to be there. A lot of the young guys are really showing that."

After claiming the Mal Meninga medal as Canberra's best player for the season, Croker vowed to take his game to another level in 2015.

The 24-year-old again proved his extraordinary durability, revealing that he had torn a meniscus in his knee in the round 10 loss to Penrith.

Croker played every game, including going on to represent the Prime Minister's XIII in Papua New Guinea. He has played 140 of a possible 147 games since his NRL debut in 2009.

Croker has been training this week while the rest of the squad is given a break. He aims to return to full training with the NRL squad on Monday.

"It [the knee] hurt at the time, we thought about getting it cleaned out around the byes, but I played the next week and it was sort of fine after that," Croker said. "There were times when it bothered me, like when I got caught in an awkward tackle or landed on my knee, but most of the time it didn't bother me.

"After the game it'd pull up sore ... but everyone's always got those little niggles you have to manage throughout the year."

Eyeballing the wooden spoon last season with a month to go, the Raiders responded by winning their final three matches to pull well clear of Cronulla.

But Croker said Canberra could not bank of taking that momentum into 2015.

"I don't think momentum really carries on from one season to the next, no matter who you are. It's very rare you see the premiers from one year come out all guns blazing at the start of the next season. Momentum doesn't really carry on. It was good to finish on a positve, but we're starting fresh."

NRL WOODEN SPOON BETTING

$4 Raiders

$5 Dragons

$5 Tigers

$6 Eels

$7 Titans

$9 Knights

$15 Sharks

$34 Warriors

$51 Cowboys

$67 Storm

$81 Sea Eagles

$101 Broncos

$101 Bulldogs

$101 Rabbitohs

$101 Roosters

Poll