The Canberra Raiders are now reporting John Bateman will be out until round 7 at the earliest following shoulder surgery. This is much worse that initially hoped, and while it’s probably a worst case scenario, the Raiders will now have a fight on their hands to start the 2020 season.
Initially it seemed like Bateman would be a possibility to play in the opening rounds of the season. This would have meant minor interruption, with the biggest impact being on the opportunities to build connections with Curtis Scott, Nic Cotric and George Williams.
Now the Raiders are scrambling for support. It was noted (by Matthew Lippiatt-Sidman of The Greenhouse) that Corey Horsburgh had filled in on the right edge at the Raiders’ fan day. Joe Tapine is another option. After that there’s not a lot of help. The Raiders have plenty of depth in the middle (we noted Siliva Havili will no doubt play a bigger role), but with John and Hudson Young both missing, it’s much weaker on the edge. Minimising movement should be priority for Coach Stuart, but with Curtis Scott and Bateman likely on ‘ice’ early on, he has no choice but to mix things up on the right.
Make no mistake this is a huge issue. Bateman provides important flexibility in attack and is the load-bearing wall of the defence. Without him the Raiders are a more vulnerable side.
The biggest problem here is defensive. Bateman has solidified a right edge that had been comically problematic for several years. He protected Aidan Sezer and unleashed a fearsome BJ Leilua to punish outside-in. All three are now gone, and suddenly Nic Cotric is likely to be the most experienced defender on the right edge.
If Horsburgh plays there real questions will he asked of his lateral mobility. He was beaten to his outside a few times last season, which is a problem for an edge defender. It puts pressure on George Williams to be a good defender at NRL level straight away, which is unfair and unrealistic. It also asks Cotric to play a big role in the decision-making of the edge. It’s a big step up for Nic, one he’s capable of making, but not without risk. Tapine seems like a safer fill-in player, but as he revealed earlier this offseason, he’s keen to stay in the middle. He might have to make a temporary sacrifice.
Bateman also leaves a gap in the right side attack. I would expect to see more Wighton on the right at second receiver as the Raiders seek to find a player that can break an otherwise set line. Without some support, Cotric may feel like he’s always got 3 defenders in his face. Again, it removes Williams’ safety blanket.
In short everyone is going to be asked to do more. It’s not impossible, but the Raiders went 0-3 without John last season, and even then they had the excellent facsimile Hudson Young to help. Now they are really stretching the depth.
Make no mistake, this is bad news. Expectations for a fast start should take a dampening, and early wins against a relatively soft schedule will be of the utmost importance to maintain their proximity to the top of the table. Anything at or above .500 will be a massive win when Bateman returns. It’s possible it’s before round 7 – he turned an 8 week broken face into a 3 week holiday last year – but that’s the information we have at this stage. It’s not panic stations yet, but it’s not good. This is a real problem, and the size of it has just gotten bigger.