Rugby League


Softer start to benefit Raiders

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Talk about a dream draw to open the NRL season. The Canberra Raiders are renowned slow starters, but have been given the perfect opportunity to turn that around with the competition's easiest schedule in the first six weeks.

They don't face a single team that made the finals last year in that stretch. Their first match with a top-eight opponent is a road trip to Townsville to take on the Cowboys in round seven.

Before that, it's away fixtures with the Panthers (15th), Titans (11th) and Knights (12th), along with Canberra Stadium encounters with the Dragons (ninth), Roosters (13th) and Warriors (14th).

The Raiders are eager to build on the momentum from the end of last season, where they stormed into the play-offs before going down to South Sydney in the second week of the finals.

They were languishing in second last on the ladder at the halfway point of the season before winning nine of the final 12 games.

In a bid not to burn too much energy at the back end of the season, the Raiders have tailored their training around shorter, sharper sessions so they don't have to rely on another late surge.


Raiders halfback Sam Williams said it was important to accumulate premiership points steadily throughout the campaign so the side is fresh come finals time.

''We came from nowhere last year to make the semis, every game's a must-win and it takes a lot out of you going into the semis,'' Williams said.

''We haven't really put a number on it [how many wins the Raiders want at the start of the season], but we have spoken about it and our aims and what we want to try and do in those games.

''If we can get off to the right foot, including the trials, it's going to be a massive bonus for the rest of the year.''

The Raiders couldn't have asked for a better result in their first trial, flogging defending premiers the Melbourne Storm 40-8 in Geelong last Friday night.

While the Storm was clearly understrength, missing star duo Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk, the Raiders were also without up to 10 regulars due to a combination of injuries and All-Star duty.

Terry Campese's recovery from his knee injury gave Williams the chance to renew his halves combination with Josh McCrone.

The pair played about the first 50 minutes in a solid hit-out, before giving way to exciting youngsters Anthony Milford and Mitch Cornish.

Williams is aware he needs to give coach David Furner no choice but to keep him in the team once Campese returns.

And he's also pleased with the seemingly endless production of quality playmakers in the club's junior ranks.

''It's really good to have that depth in the halves,'' Williams said.

''Even in the pre-season, it's been good to have quality halves on each side of the field and it tests you in defence.''

The Raiders are waiting on the results of scans taken on Monday night on centre Jarrod Croker, who suffered a knee injury in the win against the Storm.


Sunday, March 10: Penrith Panthers v Canberra Raiders at Centrebet Stadium, 2pm.

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