I AM compelled to write this column to offer a glimmer of hope to Canberra Raiders’ supporters who feel as though there is no light at the end of the tunnel.In researching this column, I have spoken to people involved with clubs who have struggled only to emerge years later as a premiership force. I have gone back a couple of years to see where teams that are leading various competitions were in 2012.
The Panthers were 15th in 2012 in the NRL; Port Adelaide only won five games in 2012; while the NSW Waratahs finished 11th that year. All three were in the midst of rebuilding or at the start of that process.
If nothing else, it indicates that with forward planning it is possible to build success. It is for this reason Ricky Stuart should be given time and space to rebuild the Raiders.
By adding up all the games played by the five players who had been with the Raiders and are now with other clubs, Canberra has lost 571 games of top-level backline player experience since 2008, including four origin players. This is experience the club has lost and is now being utilised by other clubs. And the Raiders are now forced to recover from this loss of investment in players.
Todd Carney was the first to go after 71 games with the Raiders. He went on to play another 95 at the Roosters and the Sharks. Josh Dugan has now played more than 90 NRL games, Joel Monaghan played more than 150 first-grade matches at the Raiders and the Roosters, Blake Ferguson has played more than 100 NRL games and Sandor Earl played close to 50 NRL games.
It takes years to build a player physically and mentally into a consistent first grader. The loss of experience has meant that Jack Wighton, Anthony Milford, Brenko Lee and Matt Allwood have been thrust into first grade quicker than is probably desirable.
Wighton and Milford have shown they can play at this level, but it takes time to be able to do this week in week out.
I think the Raiders need to be the club of choice for country players who don’t want to go to the bigger cities. The development system that has worked in the past should be maintained and the Raiders need protection and support from the NRL if they are going to proceed down this path.
If the Raiders are going to spend money on developing players, the NRL must provide incentives to enable the team to keep them. The current system, whereby bigger clubs are able to cherry pick players the Raiders have developed, doesn’t create a level playing field.
Of the side that walked on to the field against the Wests Tigers, only two players were bought by the Raiders outside their development program: David Shillington, from the Roosters, and Brett White, from the Melbourne Storm. The rest have come from within the system locally and within South Logan, the Raiders’ feeder club in Queensland
It’s been well documented the Raiders have been in the market for players from outside the club to bolster the squad. While they have missed out on the likes of Michael Ennis, James Tedesco and Kevin Proctor, there will be new faces in the Raiders’ line-up next year.
What is also needed as the Raiders re-build is for patience from supporters. Continually calling for the sacking of coaches and players does little to entice potential players to come to the club, and it does little to keep them here.