In comparison to previous years, the Canberra Raiders off-season has been quiet. That’s a good thing.
In previous years, come January the Raiders still weren’t sure who would be playing key positions. At this point of last season, it still wasn’t confirmed that Jack Wighton would move to the halves. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Bailey Simonsson were not with the side, and most rumours were focused on how the Raiders might be able to include Matt Dufty (which, no.) or Dylan Edwards. The previous off-season the Raiders were busily adding Siliva Havili and Craig Garvey to fill the hole left by Josh Hodgson’s injury. In years before that it was bringing in a out-of-shape Dave Taylor to fill the gaping hole that the departures of Shaun Fensom and Paul Vaughan left in Canberra’s bench depth.
So consider now that almost all of the Raiders questions for 2020 are answered. The only things approaching questions are whether Curtis Scott and BJ Leilua are in the same line-up. We know how the rest of the squad will look, including that George Williams will be a straight swap for Aidan Sezer.
We’ve written before about the importance of continuity. GAIN LINE analytics (their capitalisation), a company co-founded by former Wallaby Ben Darwin, specialises in measuring the importance of cohesion to sporting sides. For an organisation or team to achieve on-going success, it is not enough for its members to be merely talented and well coached or managed; the group must also have cohesion.
An important part of building cohesion is time. It makes sense. The more you play with someone, the better you know their tendencies and their tells. It’s not a foolproof concept. You can’t have 17 versions of me running around and expect them to compete. You still need talent and a good plan. But you also need to build cohesion. As GAIN LINE says:
Generally speaking, the stronger links between the players the stronger the team. This is essentially the basis of Cohesion. As a team builds understanding across the 3Ps (People, Position and Program) the greater capacity they will have.
As we said the Raiders haven’t had this much stability across their roster in years. At the core of that is a side had been through the wringer together, from the highs of beating Melbourne in Melbourne (twice!), winning a preliminary final, and having their hearts torn out on the biggest stage.
The relative stability of this offseason, as well as the continued presence of the core that has been in place since 2016, presents the Raiders with a unique opportunity to build on 2019’s success.
This is not a fait accompli. We’ve talked a fair bit this offseason of teh challenge facing the Raiders. In terms of cohesion they’ll need to build a relationship between George Williams and the rest of the spine. His relationship with the other English players will play a role in that from a personal perpsective, but i’m really interested in how his predominantly left-side game fits with Wighton’s similarly positioned game. They also have to work out what to do with Leilua and Scott, but it feels like more a good problem to have than one that will derail the season.
Recently the Raiders have also added to these personnel issues the matter of how to train in a city with literally the worst air quality in the world. As The Canberra Times pointed out, they are looking at a range of options to take their team away from Canberra for a period of time. I’m really glad the Milk are looking at other venues for training. No one should be outside if they can help it in Canberra right now. Even high-performance athletes shouldn’t be risking it.
We’ll see how that works out. No doubt the longer they take to find a suitable location, the less opportunity they have to build on-field cohesion. But this is a small problem in the scheme of things, a matter of logistics, particularly given what is being faced by Australians in the face of these fires.
My heart is with everyone facing this. As always, please donate if you can. Here is a good place to start: https://www.redcross.org.au/campaigns/disaster-relief-and-recovery-donate
These obstacles aside, the stability in their roster is not only unique for them, but also to them. Big-name players are still moving around the competition – and where Latrell Mitchell (currently not training with the Roosters) ends up may create a wave of movement around the league. The Raiders’ relative cohesion give it a comparative advantage over the rest of the competition; one they should grasp with both hands.