Former Manly star Michael Bani will play for Goulburn.

Former Manly star Michael Bani will play for Goulburn. Photo: Will Swanton

He's the NRL cult hero who grew up hunting dugongs and turtles in the Torres Strait, now Michael Bani is chasing a Canberra Raiders Cup premiership with Goulburn. 

Bani was once such a crowd favourite at Manly, its fans formed the "Bani Army" to cheer him on at Brookvale Oval. 

The 29-year-old, who played 41 NRL games for North Queensland and the Sea Eagles, has taken his talents to a star-studded Bulldogs outfit loaded with NRL experience. 

He will play fullback at Goulburn as part of a spine that, on paper, shapes as the most devastating in the competition. 

Captain-coach, former Canberra Raiders player Michael Picker, will play in the halves and hopes to have former Rooster James Aubusson beside him. 

His younger brother Ben Picker, who featured in Canberra's 2012 under-20 grand final team, will return as hooker for a second straight season. 

Many rival coaches rate Goulburn as the team to beat, and their title credentials will receive an early test when they host last year's grand finalists Queanbeyan Blues in round one on Anzac Day. 

Michael Picker developed a strong friendship with Bani when they played together at Raiders NSW Cup affiliate Mounties last year. 

Bani owns a property near Picker's family farm near Bigga, a small town north-west of Goulburn. 

Its population of about 300 is similar to the tiny Torres Strait island of Mabuiag, where he survived by fishing and living off the land. 

He began the year with South Sydney affiliate North Sydney in the NSW Cup, but once the Rabbitos signed veteran dual international Lote Tuqiri, he saw the writing on the wall. 

"He's told us a bit about where he's from, it's a different world and he's a long way from home,'' Michael Picker said. "He's still got the wife and his two young boys up there, getting up there costs him a fortune. 

"There are no turtles or dugongs down here, he's still a long way from home.

"His family has a block of land not far from our farm, I've brought him home to Bigga a few times from Mounties games.''

Picker wants Bani to get involved as much as possible, and views fullback as the best place to do so.

"We've got some handy young fullbacks, but that'll be good for them to learn off him,'' he said.

"When I told the boys he was coming I knew there might be some young guys who drop their heads, but they'll be better off watching him in the long run.

"He's a good runner and has always been good at returning the ball, but we're not just going to feed it to him all day.''

Picker is unsure if Aubusson, who has filled the player-coach role in the past few years, will play this season. 

"He still wants to be involved, but he's had some issues with his knee and neck, and he wants to come back when he's fit and ready,'' Picker said.

Asked if his side is the team to beat, Picker said: "I don't know about that, we're still quite a small side and it's going to be up to us [the spine] to beat those bigger sides.

"The Blues are a big side, so we'll soon find out.''

CANBERRA RAIDERS CUP ROUND ONE

Thursday: West Belconnen v Belconnen United at Raiders Belconnen, Queanbeyan Kangaroos v Woden Valley at Freebody Oval, Goulburn v Queanbeyan Blues at Goulburn Workers Arena (all games at 9pm)

Saturday: Tuggeranong v Gungahlin at Greenway Oval (3pm).