I’m sitting at my desk in the upstairs study, staring out at a desolate hellscape. A massive dust storm has enveloped the nation’s capital, rendering the sky a flat, featureless wall of beige. The intense heat that wracked Canberra over the peak of summer has gone, taking a particularly average cricket season with it. Online the first images of this years F1 cars are slowly materialising, which means that the time between now and the start of winter sports is down to a month.
Rugby league has been pretty far from my mind since last year’s grand final, giving my sports brain time to reboot and get ready for another hectic rollercoaster ride. The off-season highlight for me was fox league dedicating a whole day of classic matches to the Raiders, which pulled some truly memorable vision from the vaults.
Before the season starts proper in March, there is the matter of trial games to be considered. For me trial games have long been like the now abandoned City/Country format – a ritual of tradition that is more about showing the fans that the squad hasn’t been slacking off over the summer. No one ever fields a full–strength squad, and marquee players rarely see more than 20 minutes on the field.
Trials are first and foremost a chance to blood a swathe of youngsters at a level somewhere between state cup and first grade, and to get any new acquisitions out and in front of fans eyes, if only in an effort to remind them that there is someone new to be a fan of.
For the Raiders this would be the English duo of Sutton and Bateman, two quality imports set to transform the Raiders formerly “Big Rig” pack into a more mobile and longer lasting engine room. Whether or not Coach Stuart decides to field these two is another matter (and all indications are that Bateman won’t take part), as trial teams can often consist of nearly all fringe players, especially those who are battling for the honour of top understudy in depth-heavy positions.
Another point of interest will be whether or not we get to see any sign of Jack Wighton in his second coming as a five-eigth, a position that Sticky memorably thrust him into when he was far too young to cover it. As Dan has pointed out so many times Wighton has since evolved into a brilliant and destructive ball runner with fast hands, and many of us are keen to see what links he has managed to forge with Sezer and Hodgson.
Finally, sorting out just who will be joining Sezer, Wighton and Hodgson in the spine. Nicoll-Klokstad is a late addition to the contenders and potentially a front-runner. While only time will tell, that time is running out.
A normal Rumble, of course, would be littered with sub-headings and important stats and commentary about players performances, but here in the pre-season there’s not much to go on apart from cliché riddled media releases. All I can really tell you is that the Raiders are playing the Eels at 7pm on Friday night (you can stream the match through the Eels official website). I’ll provide another Rumble in the lead up to the trial against the Bulldogs and then Dan and I will crunch the pre-season matches for any possible indicators of season-proper performances.
Having said that, pre-season games can be wholly unreliable, as most teams are more concerned about sustaining any unnecessary injuries than they are on completely smashing their opponents.
So enjoy these two matches, which herald the return of footy, but are not themselves, footy proper.
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