Rugby League


Changing face of the Canberra Raiders

It's the changing face of the Canberra Raiders - moving away from a reliance on locally-developed talent and signing established players from rival clubs.

The Raiders' pursuit of Newcastle Knights centre Joey Leilua is the latest example of a radical overhaul to the club's recruitment policy.

Continually frustrated with the lack of incentives from the NRL to produce their own stars of the future, the Raiders have widened their scope in a quest to win the club's first premiership since 1994.

That doesn't mean the Raiders have given up on their own juniors, but they have taken a more balanced approach under coach Ricky Stuart.

A projected Raiders team for round one of the 2016 season would have eight players in the game-day 17-man squad who have come through the club's junior ranks.

Those would be Jack Wighton, captain Jarrod Croker, Edrick Lee, Paul Vaughan, Josh Papalii, Shaun Fensom, Jarrad Kennedy and Shannon Boyd.


For any other NRL club, having eight juniors in the top 17 would be considered above average.

But for the Raiders, it's a significant shift for a club that has traditionally built from within and only brought in a handful of players from outside to fill the gaps.

Raiders chief executive Don Furner said the change of strategy came out of necessity.

"Commercially and financially, it's probably a sounder way to go," Furner said.

"It's sparked by (the NRL) not putting money into junior development and there's not those incentives there.

​"The majority are developed by us, but we've sprinkled in some experience."

All six additions to this year's squad have made an impact.

Blake Austin, 24, has gone from a utility player at the Wests Tigers to a starting five-eighth at the Raiders.

He is in the discussions as a State of Origin bolter after scoring three tries and producing two try-saving tackles for City last weekend.

England hooker Josh Hodgson, 25, has given the Raiders spark at dummy-half while halfback Sam Williams, 24, is making the most of his second stint.

The experience of second-rower Sia Soliola, 28, has been vital to the young squad, while the same can be said of prop Frank-Paul Nu'uausala, 28, and Fijian winger Sisa Waqa, 29.

The moves will continue next year.

Gold Coast Titans five-eighth Aidan Sezer is a great pick-up in the halves, while second-rower Elliott Whitehead will be hoping to emulate the success of countryman Hodgson.

Leilua fits the mould for what the Raiders need - he's 23, has played more than 100 NRL games and has the potential to be one of the most damaging centres in the game.

"We're always in the market for quality players," Furner said.

"Certainly someone like Joey Leilua would be fantastic at our club, but there's a lot of water under the bridge before anything like that can happen."

The Raiders are less likely to secure Test prop James Tamou from the North Queensland Cowboys.

They are well stocked for front-rowers and will need to upgrade young guns Vaughan and Boyd.

Canberra Times' Possible Raiders round one team, 2016 (first club in brackets)

1. Jack Wighton (Raiders)

2. Sisa Waqa (Roosters)/Jordan Rapana (Titans)

3. Joey Leilua (Roosters)*/Sisa Waqa (Roosters)

4. Jarrod Croker (Raiders)

5. Edrick Lee (Raiders)

6. Blake Austin (Panthers)

7. Aidan Sezer (Titans)

8. Paul Vaughan (Raiders)

9. Josh Hodgson (England)

10. Josh Papalii (Raiders)

11. Elliott Whitehead (England)

12. Sia Soliola (Roosters)

13. Shaun Fensom (Raiders)

14. Kurt Baptiste (Broncos)

15. Jarrad Kennedy (Raiders)

16. Frank-Paul Nu'uausala (Roosters)

17. Shannon Boyd (Raiders)

* Yet to sign

Eight Raiders juniors in projected round one team, 2016

Raiders round one team, 2014 (first club in brackets)

1. Anthony Milford (Raiders)*

2. Reece Robinson (Broncos)*

3. Jarrod Croker (Raiders)

4. Matthew Allwood (Raiders)*

5. Edrick Lee (Raiders)

6. Jack Wighton (Raiders)

7. Terry Campese (Raiders)*

8. Dane Tilse (Knights)*

9. Glen Buttriss (Raiders)

10. Brett White (Storm)*

11. Josh Papalii (Raiders)

12. Joel Edwards (Knights)

13. Shaun Fensom (Raiders)

14. Josh McCrone (Raiders)

15. Jarrad Kennedy (Raiders)

16. Paul Vaughan (Raiders)

17. Shannon Boyd (Raiders)

* No longer at the Raiders

Thirteen Raiders juniors in round one team, 2014