It was officially announced today that Shaun Johnson won’t be joining the Canberra Raiders. No matter how hard we all tried to wish this scenario into existence, Shaun instead opted for the sunny beaches of southern Sydney. It’s not the first time time the Raiders have been spurned, and it won’t be the last.
Johnson used Canberra for little other than to add to smoke to the kindling that would (rightly) give the impression he was ‘in demand’. For a man with his skill it was overkill. But then again, we all knew he wasn’t really coming. Hell, we’d already said we didn’t have any cap space.
Sidebar: After this saga first sparked us from our post-season slumber, we turned to you, good reader, to help us find a good way to describe the phenomenon. We put ‘Raider Raise’ (shouts to Jack Cronin) up against the ‘Raiders Dummy’ (shouts to Tim Darke). The finalisation of this passage allows us to announce the result of this experiment. You chose Raider Raise with 53.61 per cent of the vote.
Congrats to both Jack and Tim for being more creative and interesting than us. Raider Raise for ever!
Lesser players need to use the Raiders to get a raise from their home team, or to generate urgency from prospective new clubs. But Johnson always had a cavalcade of suitors waiting for the Warriors to be too cute by half and let him go. Not in the least the spectre of the Roosters, which potentially drove the Sharks to offer him a longer term deal than was initially suggested.
The big win for the Raiders is that does free up whatever they can get as dispensation for Jordan Rapana’s injury to expand their depth in 2019. It also significantly increases the likelihood of the Raiders keeping the Kiwi winger in 2020 and beyond.
In reality the Raiders are never going to be a side that competes for big name stars in their prime. Instead we have to find value where other teams aren’t looking. Look at the Englishmen now in the squad – outside of John Bateman the Raiders very much got Hodgson and Whitehead before they were known quantities. Sutton might be very good, or he might follow Jordan Turner back to England. The important thing is that the Raiders gambled and won with the best hooker in the world (non Cam Smith category) and possibly the most underrated backrower in the NRL.
In addition to outside the NRL, the Raiders can find value in castoffs or damaged goods that Canberra have picked up from clubs that saw greener grass elsewhere. Aidan Sezer was not wanted when the Titans thought they were going to snag Daly Cherry-Evans. Jordan Rapana, arguably the best winger in the competition, wasn’t even wanted by the NRL when he returned from mission work. Of course the Raiders can focus on ‘local’ products. The Raiders have built an array of players from juniors up (Wighton, Cotric, Croker, Papalii).
These are the places that Canberra should look for value. Rare are opportunities like Tapine and Leilua, who were of genuine interest to clubs outside Canberra when the Raiders got them. Neither were ‘sure things’, and Canberra was lucky to get the best from both.
It simply isn’t realistic for the Green Machine to be chasing marquee stars. While players will take a ‘discount’ to live in Sydney’s east, or in Brisbane, Raiders have to pay overs for everything. So they have to find the diamonds in the rough to compete. And then hope they can keep them once they’re famous.
That’s not to say the Raiders don’t dream for the big names just like we do. They were clearly hopeful about Johnson. Unfortunately for us, all he wanted was his Raider Raise.
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