BY DAN AND BEN
The NRL released its 2018 draw yesterday. According to Fox Sports the Raiders have earned themselves an ‘easy’ draw. In fact the easiest in the competition. The last time this happened was 2016, which you might remember ended with the Raiders almost making the grand final.
This draw has given Raiders fans a little pre-pre season boost. Which is nice. But they should be wary about extrapolating 2017s outcomes onto 2018. Predicting a competition six months in advance is a fool’s game. A fun one, but still stupid.
In 2017 the Raiders officially had the 4th hardest draw in the competition. Only they played Brisbane without Milford (round 13ish), the Dragons in the midst of a form slump, the Cowboys without Thurston, and the Roosters during Origin. Not so tough when you consider that. They lost to the Knights and Bulldogs because 2017 was darkness and pain and non-alcoholic beer. Meanwhile the Cowboys had the second hardest draw, lost the best halfback in the competition, a starting prop and still played in the big dance.
What seems like an easy draw doesn’t always end up that way. In 2015 the Raiders also had the easiest draw before the season. After the season measurements showed their draw was more of a ‘middle-of-the-road’ draw. In 2016 the Raiders had the easiest draw and made the preliminary final. The Cowboys had the second hardest, and made the preliminary final.
In 2018, the Raiders first 4 games are Titans, Knights, Warriors and Sea-Eagles. Many would consider that an easy start. But what happens if a new coach gives the Titans defence some spine? What happens if Connor Watson and Kalyn Ponga give the Knights the spark in attack they missed in 2017? What if the Warriors spine clicks into gear, Adam Blair solidifies their pack and they look amazing? On the other hand what if the Sea-Eagles play more like their roster suggests and well, suck?
We’re not telling you anything you don’t know when we say the NRL loves a bit of chat about the draw. It’s October, the World Cup is coming. This just keeps people focused on Rugby League in the meantime. It’s fun to discuss, it’s fun to hope next year is The Year. Our advice? Note the draw might be helpful, it might not, then go back to wondering why Austin insists on taking the ball out of Sezer and Hodgson’s hands, or why the Raiders forward pack was so underwhelming in 2017. Because I can tell you that’s going to have a bigger influence on 2018 than the draw.
I have no doubt that ease of draw can play a role in where the Raiders finish. But trying to ascertain the measure of that ease ex-ante is nothing but a way to pass the time until the season starts.