Injury-hit Raider fit and ready
RUGBY LEAGUE: Picture this: you've just made the finals for the first time in your six-year NRL career.
In fact, you made it to within one win of the grand final.
You'd be pretty stoked with your season, right?
Well, not if you're Canberra five-eighth Blake Austin.
The honest Raiders star has described his 2016 season as "the worst of my career".
Austin was dogged with injury for almost the entire season, which affected his form due to a lack of continuity on the field.
The 26-year-old's horror run of luck started when he needed off-season shoulder surgery following the 2015 season.
It was looking like he'd miss the start of the season, but he made a surprise appearance, wearing the No.14 jumper in the Raiders' first game against Penrith.
"I raced the clock to make round one with my shoulder, then to do my knee in that game was disappointing," Austin told foxsports.com.au.
But the nightmare didn't end there.
Two weeks after his one-month lay-off, he suffered a hamstring injury.
He managed to string some games together, but then broke his hand right before the finals wrestling former teammate Paul Vaughan at training.
"Just as I started to feel a bit of momentum it seemed like something else crept up and halted me again," Austin said.
"But if last year is going to be the worst year of my career, it wasn't all that bad.
"We got to one win from the grand final, it was my first taste of finals footy."
Luckily, preparations for the upcoming season have gone a whole lot smoother and Austin is itching to get back out on the field and team up with halves partner Aidan Sezer.
"I've been able to work a lot harder in the gym than I have the past couple of years," Austin said.
"My shoulders have sort of held me back in the past.
"Last year I wasn't able to do a lot of the training. But I've got all the running done too, so it's been pretty pleasing.
"Aidan and I have been able to get a lot more done together so it's only going to benefit the team.
"We're both at a really good base level of fitness and we're probably stronger than we were last year.
"We understand that for the Raiders to take the next step, we both need to step up."
With a squad virtually the same as last season, many are tipping the Green Machine to power all the way to the title.
Austin said the team were relishing the competition's 'heavyweight' tag.
"This will be the first time the most expectation the Raiders have headed into a season with for a while," he said.
"We're going to have to deal with that, but we're all pretty excited about giving it a good crack."