The Raiders today cemented my one true love & star rake Josh Hodgson in Canberra lore by naming him co-captain with local legend Jarrod Croker. This move will be more important off the field than on, and reflects the importance of the Englishman to Canberra more than any desire to markedly change the Raiders approach to leadership.
Josh Hodgson is important to the Raiders. Making that leadership official simply reflected the reality that Hodgson has a lot of influence over the on-field product. Since he arrived in Canberra for the 2015 season, he’s lead the club in try assists, and he’s been the fulcrum of the Green Machine’s (albeit patchy) success. He filled in as captain in 2018 without any growing pains and has shown a natural affinity for leadership of the club.
It was pleasing to see Croker announce it (via his instragram account). He’s been an exemplary leader of the club, and this suggests that not only was he consulted in the decision making process, but also supports the outcome. This is important for cohesion and harmony in 2019.
It’s not hard to see why Croker is happy. This will lighten his load, particularly with the press. Now the boys can play rock, paper, scissors to decide who has to sit next to Sticky after a heart wrenching loss. Both men have perfected the desolate thousand mile stare, so are well qualified.
I doubt it will have much material impact on the on-field results though. Some have argued that having a voice in the middle of the park is important to influencing the referees. I can see the logic here. As Tim Gore pointed out, Cam Smith’s influence peddling is only possible because of his proximity. It makes sense to have someone who could pursue the same.
But in 2018 in Hodgson led games the Raiders had an average penalty differential of -1.75. This means on average, they conceded 1.75 more penalties than their opposition. In Croker led games that difference was 0.1 to Canberra (please note all maths dodgy AF). While this sample size is ludicrously small and there’s a bunch of other factors that I’m not accounting for, it does indicate that simply putting a captain in the middle of the park might not be as important as we think.
Critics of Croker say he’s not the fire and brimstone leader the club needs. I think this is an outdated way to think of leadership, and a much more effective model is the Rooseveltian “speak softly and carry a big stick” (the stick in this analogy probably being Josh Papalii). Hodgson and Croker both seem more focused on winning games than yelling the naff cliches that sports fans mistake for inspiration.
Unlike Coach Stuart, who believes this decision will take the Raiders “to the next level“, I don’t think it will have a material on-field impact. Having a ‘C’ next to his name isn’t going to make Hodgson any more or less likely to take one of his patented short-side forays on the last. Sharing that same ‘C’ is not going have any impact on the defence on the edge that Croker will likely share with Sam Williams. Sia Soliola is today just as important to the development of young men into professional sportsmen as he was yesterday.
Regardless, it’s a noteworthy off-field improvement, even if I think the onfield impact is marginal. More importantly, after the frankly horrendous period the NRL has had recently, it’s just nice to be talking about two excellent footballers, and how important they are to our side.
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