When Ricky Stuart returned to the Raiders he said it would take time to fix our team. His exact words in August last year were:
“The last three jobs I had were about rebuilding the roster, and I realise the hard work comes before the reward. I have no doubt in the world it will change, but as long as respect our two major obstacles: time and patience.”
And so Raiders fans were asked to put their faith in Stuart.
As we noted, the Raiders were mostly awful on Sunday. The fringe defence, defence around the ruck and ball-handling were the reasons for the loss. Or so we thought. We did not list the play of young half Mitchell Cornish as a cause of concern. Sure he lacked consistency, but that’s hardly surprising given the Raiders dropped so much ball in attack.
So imagine our surprise that when teams were announced today that the one and only change to the Raiders side was that Cornish had been dropped.
Time and Patience.
Let that sink in. On Sunday Ricky Stuart saw Dane Tilse turn over the ball multiple times in the opposition twenty and thought ‘maybe Cornish isn’t up to it.’ Stuart saw Josh Hodgson throw the ball into the ground, caroming of Sia Soliola’s hard hands and thought “four games is plenty of time.” He saw Cornish lay on the Raiders only try of the game, provide the Raiders only consistent long kicking option and thought “this guy has to go.”
Rewind to last year and remember Ricky Stuart spent all of last year saying in post-match press conferences that (and we’re paraphrasing here) ‘this team is not good enough, it’s not my fault’. He needed time to fix the roster. And he was given the benefit of the doubt as the team struggled mightily through last year. As Raiders’ fans we all had to have faith.
Two major obstacles: Time and Patience.
He made a big deal of trying to fix these weak spots – he identified Kevin Proctor and James Tedesco as the antidote to those issues mid-way through the year, although they fell through. Blake Austin was brought in to fill the role of the running five-eighth.
Sia Soliola, Frank Paul Nuuausala and others came in too at the end of the year. In the meantime Cornish got some minutes in and around the (sadly) awful play of Campese and McCrone, looking impressive in limited time.
When Ricky finally relented and let Cornish play whole games at seven, the Raiders reeled off a treble of heartening victories at the end of the season. It seemed that Cornish had been held back to allow him time to work into the role; to build his confidence, or more accurately to stop it from being ruined by the struggling team around him. A young halfback needs two things: time and trust. The authority needed to be the half can only be gained by knowing your spot in the side in safe; you cannot tell a veteran like Dave Shillington where to go if you’re not going to be around next week. Maybe Ricky was just being patient. Waiting for the right time.
And so when Sam Williams was picked up in the off-season I was relaxed. It seemed a good insurance should Cornish fail to develop over this season. Or alternatively maybe Williams would prove excellent in his return to the Raiders and take over to start the season. He too is young and has potential. He was the best-on-field in the Raiders home final against the Sharks in 2012.
He may turn out to be an elite half. Either way, Stuart would have ample evidence from the off-season to decide who should start. And rather than ruin two good halfbacks by yo-yoing them in and out of the side, not allowing them to establish authority over the side, we hoped he would show patience, develop whichever half showed the most ability and potential. It turned out that Williams failed to beat out Cornish for the starting halfback spot. And so again we all put our faith in Stuart to develop Cornish. To show him time and patience.
Instead, in the face of three humbling losses that can be laid at the feet of anything but Mitchell Cornish, Stuart has opted to go nuclear. Stuart has laid the blame solely at Cornish’s feet. Not at the feet of Tilse and his awful decisions to offload close to the opposition line. Not at the feet of Kennedy and Austin who couldn’t stop your mum from getting through their edge. But at the young halfbacks feet.
Time and Patience?
Some will say this will light a fire under Cornish. We hope so. But what happens if the Raiders continue to struggle because they still can’t defend the fringes, and still can’t hold the ball? Will Stuart sack Williams then? Bring back Cornish and say ‘you’re good enough now because we’re still bad?’ Is that how you develop a half? Stuart could have opted to fix the structural issues that cause the Raiders’ maladies such as the compressed defence. He could demand better performance from his forwards in defence, and better ball control in offence. And he could have chosen to continue to develop a young half back who has the potential to be excellent.
Instead Stuart has decided to abandon this project. Time will tell whether or not Stuart is making the right decision. But here at the Sportress, we are losing our patience.