Ricky Stuart wants the Canberra Raiders to succeed. He wants it bad. You can see it in his face at the press conference after every match. After a win there is measured praise along with (usually) constructive criticism of the performance. Heck, even after a loss there is sometimes praise (Warriors, round 2). But then there are those losses where the frustration and anguish begin to show. Words are hard to speak, and the rote questions from the press are deflected with generic statements.
Following the loss to the Dragons on Saturday night the Raiders social media sphere – ok, the Greenhouse – quickly began to flood with opinions of what went wrong, when it went wrong and who was responsible. It is safe to say that, as mentioned in Dan’s review of the match, there were multiple offenders throughout the 17 players involved. Tackles were missed, penalties conceded, errors made and poor choices taken.
Poor choices, Ricky. In particular, your poor choices. Two of them. The first was naming Josh McCrone on the bench. The second was subbing him on and benching Josh Hodgson at the 20 minute mark. What are you doing Ricky? Do you want me and every other Raiders fan out there to die a slow anxiety and stress related death?
The warning bells should already have been ringing at maximum volume last year, exemplified by the alleged football match between the Raiders and the Sharks, where McCrone sucked harder than a top of the line Dyson vacuum cleaner.
In that match, before the clock even hits the 10 minute mark, McCrone conceded a penalty and kicked the ball out on the full. Twice in the first half he threw passes into the chest of Kennedy which failed to stick, leading to his benching in favour of Cornish at the 37 minute mark.
McCrone cleaned up his act in the second half, but was still the cause of at least one infringement. At dummy half his passing speed was slow, his telegraphed runs blatantly obvious to the defense. You can still hear referees warning him to disengage from the tackle.
Fast forward to round 1 of 2015 and the Raiders are back at Remondis facing the Sharks once more. McCrone’s first appearance in the game is at the moment a crucial penalty is given. Many viewers deemed McCrone responsible for the infringement, although hindsight shows that Wighton was in fact the guilty party. His response was concerning; looking flustered he stood up, confused as to whether he should accept the referee’s judgement or argue the case. He took the former option and awkwardly joined the defensive line.
The team has had a reasonable turnover of personnel, and one of the more potentially exciting recruits is UK player Josh Hodgson. Hodgson does indeed provide the good service that a team requires from their number 9, but due to the slower tempo and less-physical style of Super League he is not yet a full 80 minute player. It is possible that he may never be a full match player. In almost any other team this would not be a massive concern as there would be an adequate utility/second string hooker waiting on the bench for their 20 minutes of game time. Unfortunately for the Raiders that player is Josh McCrone.
In his three opening games for the club Hodgson has demonstrated vision from dummy half. He can see when a solo run is the optimal choice, catching slow markers unawares and turning defensive lines in on themselves. He understands that if passing a hooker should touch too long, or pass to obviously, the intended recipient will be singled out and quickly triangulated. His passes generate depth and give the halves pairing of Austin and Cornish room to move, execute and improvise. He has the requisite kicking game to extract the team from trouble if things should go awry late in the set. He has the ability to defend. He does have the penchant for the odd dive for the try line from dummy half, but show me a hooker that hasn’t decided to go it alone every now and then (Eds note: That’s what she said).
Josh McCrone has none of these things. The team grinds to an immediate halt once he takes up his place at dummy half. His service speed in terms of passing is slow, and he has the terrible habit of running three steps from the play the ball before passing, which in turn means the recipient of his pass must move up with him and single themselves out to the defence. His dummy half runs this year have been almost non-existent, and his missed tackles are glaringly obvious.
Utility players are often also labelled as “impact” players. They are subbed on towards the end of each half in an attempt to either restart a flagging attack, catch tiring forwards off balance or steady a winning side. Josh McCrone is quite possibly the complete opposite of what it is to be an “impact” player.
Despite the fact that he was canned for the final two rounds of 2014 after an abysmal showing against the Sharks, McCrone has managed to inveigle his way onto the bench, much to the consternation of devoted fans. This is not actually McCrone’s fault. Players don’t select the team, coaches do.
Ricky, why, in the face of prevailing opinion, do you constantly put McCrone on the bench? He is killing us, as a team and a fanbase. I looked at the NSWRL ladder today Ricky. Mounties, our feeder club/NSWRL partners are 3 from 3. From what I hear Kurt Baptiste has got be doing something right. I know McCrone has been at the club for years, but as we all know footy is not just a sport but also a business. Playing McCrone in first grade is bad business. He can no longer expect to receive loyalty handouts – it’s unfair to other potential utility players and unfair to the fans.
It’s time to end it Ricky. Come on man, just do it. Winning feels great. Watching a team unravel because one key player is far below standard does not feel great. Walking out of the stadium on Saturday evening was one of the worst football experiences I’ve ever had.
Do the right thing and cut McCrone for the rest of time.