Talk about a rubbish few weeks. Following on the back of the Curtis Scott debacle, the Canberra Raiders received news that John Bateman would require shoulder surgery that could threaten his position in the round 1 side. For a team that needs everyone on board to contend, this is not welcome news.
To say John Bateman is important to the Raiders is an understatement. His role in turning the right edge from flimsy to a fortress was renowned. 92 per cent tackling efficiency on the edge will do that. His ability to play with variety in attack was critical in the Raiders’ grinding attack. Need a hard hit up? John had it, to the tune of 116 metres a game, the only non-Papalii forward. Need a change in the point of attack? John took the line behind the ruck. Need creativity on the edge? There’s John hitting a grubbed perfectly for Charnze-Nicoll Klokstad. This doesn’t even mention his famous competitive spirit, which seemed to galvanise the Milk in games he played.
Without him they won as many games last year as I got Order of Australia nominations (shame on you dear reader). Losses to league leaders Roosters and Bunnies were coupled with failures against also-rans Cowboys and Warriors. It’s not fair to say Bateman is the difference between winning and losing those games – if Cotric could throw a pass left to right they may have beaten the Roosters. If Croker didn’t get stripped on the line they may have beat the Bunnies. If the Raiders’ middle wasn’t exhausted from those two games maybe Jason Taumalolo doesn’t run over them like the big kid in junior footy. If the Raiders have a damn maybe they beat the Warriors in the last round. But he was certainly a massive part of it.
The Raiders did win the game he was injured, a relatively comfortable 30-12 victory over Penrith in Wagga. Hudson Young filled in admirably. He’s an effective defender on the edge and can give you both the hard runs and change of direction Bateman can, just not with the same effectiveness. He’s still developing as a player but he will be an important part of the Raiders 17 all year. There’s real talent there.
Unfortunately he’s out for the first five rounds of the year because of his “busy” hands (shouts to Artie Ziff. I hope you cleaned up your act). This means if Bateman’s injury is serious, the Raiders would have to move Tapine to the edge. This is fine as a stop gap, but it weakens the Raiders in the middle and on the edge. Tapine has a devastating carry not matter where he takes it, it he doesn’t have the defensive consistency on the edge of Bateman or Young. More importantly it means the Raiders lose the mix of the pace and power in the pack that they used to such great effect in 2019.
There are options. Sia Soliola and Siliva Havili could perform a decent version at 13. Corey Horsburgh could see minutes there. The Raiders may even reach into the squad depth for Jack Murchie or Luke Bateman. Regardless, it’s an imperfect solution.
It also threatens the ability of Bateman to combinations on both sides of the ball with his new colleagues in that space, George Williams and Nic Cotric (we think). It’s hardly ideal.
Fortunately there’s every indication Bateman will be alright for round 1 *crosses fingers, knocks on wood, prays to Badge’s moustache*. The Raiders have said this injury related to his load last year, and they’d hoped it would resolve with time. They opted for surgery now, presumably the latest practical moment that would allow him to be ready for the season. As NRL Physio points out on twitter, shoulder clean outs can often be good to go after 3-4 weeks.
So at this stage there’s nothing to worry about. Yet. 2020 hasn’t started how the Raiders would have wanted. The Scott matter and the Bateman injury present obstacles. Overcoming them is part of being a contender, and the Milk will have to overcome worse things in 2020 if they’re serious about September. But unless this injury stretches into the season, the Green Machine should be able to overcome it.