Just when Raiders’ fans worldwide were settling into the idea that the footy was actually coming back, a giant spanner was jammed in the proverbial works in the form of John Bateman’s tenure in Canberra.
It was such a whirlwind of information. First James Hooper said Bateman has sought a release on four separate occasions. Then Bateman said that never occurred (but with more dunking on Hooper). Then Don Furner confirmed John had been granted permission to talk to other clubs. Then John reiterated his commitment to Canberra. It all ended with Bateman telling the Daily Telegraph that the Raiders have said they won’t move on money in the short term, before the Sydney Morning Herald said the Raiders had privately conceded it would likely be his last year in Canberra. Let me say that sink in. This may be John Bateman’s last year in Canberra.
Meanwhile Raiders head honcho Don Furner and coach Ricky Stuart have both played the situation with a dead bat, barely commenting publicly.
So what’s going on?
Well let’s start with the obvious. Bateman is seeking an upgrade to his current deal of around 600k. That’s less than he’s worth now, but as we said last week, reflects the risk the Raiders took in bringing him to Australia, and the transfer fee they paid. Bateman is much more of a certainty now, so any team will he looking at a higher figure. 800k a year is being bandied about.
If Bateman’s characterisation of Furner’s views is right (and let’s take that with a grain of salt) then the Raiders have made a choice that Bateman isn’t worth that much. Given the man basically single-handedly fixed the Raiders’ right side defence I simply cannot believe that. If the Raiders have a premiership window it exists as long as the Englishmen is at the side. John Bateman is worth every cent of 800k and I hope the Raiders leadership is doing everything they can to find that money.
There is a possibility Furner is playing hardball – knowing that the teams with cap space to spare (Dogs, Dragons etc) aren’t as appealing to Bateman for competitiveness and relationship reasons. This is a ballsy position if that’s what’s going on. Bateman’s language over the weekend suggests money will make this decision, and I can’t hold that against him. Furner would need to be sure of himself and of Bateman’s motivations.
I hope the impasse is mainly in the fact that Bateman is seeking an upgrade now and the Raiders haven’t yet got their cap ducks in a row. Bateman is no doubt pushing for a new deal due to the gap we highlighted above. His manager Isaac Moses is also likely pushing for a deal as soon as possible, because new managers don’t get paid for old deals. In the short term it seems there is little cap space to meet the money that Bateman wants. The Raiders have time on their side to make the money work in the future, but perhaps for now the cap is seemingly preventing the upgrade Bateman wants or deserves.
Bateman is officially able to sign with other teams for 2022 from November this year. Because the Raiders don’t have any space to upgrade him now, if they want to keep him (and I can’t believe I am writing that) they’ll be competing on the open market for his services later this year.
The Raiders only have a handful of players locked in for 2022 at this stage, so they should be able to compete with most teams on money for a new deal. What the Raiders can offer him that no one else can is more money in 2021. While they have no space now, they should be able to take the necessary steps to find some in order to upgrade his 2021 deal.
Recent decisions to let JJ Collins, Luke Bateman and Jack Murchie walk may be seen in this light. I don’t know if these players’ salaries would cover the gap between what John earns and what he’s worth. If they were on the minimum, it wouldn’t free up any space, as the Raiders would need to fill that roster spot regardless. I am now weirdly hoping they were on plenty.
Bigger sacrifices would be players like Michael Oldfield, Sia Soliola, and Jordan Rapana, or god forbid, Nic Cotric – who all come off contract at the end of 2020. It’s safe to assume these players earn more than the minimum, so can be replaced with a minimum earner (in cap if not output) in order to free up some space. Don Furner has already indicated he didn’t think the Raiders had space to bring Rapana back, and Sia has always been circumspect about whether the Milk would still want him post his current contract. The story with Cotric has always been “he’s about to sign”, and the Telegraph article made it clear he’s still a priority. So Rapana, Oldfield and/or maybe Sia will need to be moved on to give the Raiders a shot at locking up Bateman. These would all be heartbreaking but it’s fair to say most would think Bateman more important to premiership plans.
It could be that critical to this plan of using a 2021 upgrade as a ‘difference maker’ in negotiations later this year is knowing how much Bateman is worth for his 2022 contract, which they’ll need to at least meet. The decision to let Bateman speak to other clubs about his value may well be a step in this direction; tell us what you can get for 2022 and we’ll find the money. In the meantime Don et al can spend their time trying to find the money for 2021 without breaking up the team. I don’t know if that’s the strategy, but I very much prefer it to Bateman’s characterisation of the Raiders’ approach.
This means the Raiders could be about to spend this year in a reverse “Raider Raise” (shouts to Jack Cronin as always). Where normally an agent uses Canberra’s cap space to increase the value of his player, now the Raiders are watching the price of their talent increase. The Bulldogs and the Dragons, both with more fluid cap positions, will be used against Canberra, (and anyone else bidding), to drive Bateman’s value up.
Only time will tell if the Raiders are actually contemplating a life without Bateman, staring down a storm created by media, or if they are willing to pay every inch of his value. If Furner can keep him I’ll think he’s a genius. If he pushes him out because he couldn’t find the necessary space he’s a fool. Normally I would say this has a way to go, but the last few days have felt like a crescendo that will leading to something sooner rather than later. That could be exactly what Isaac Moses wants.
Regardless it’s a terrifying situation, one made for people with more fortitude and resolve than your boy has (I spent most of this weekend muttering to myself and eating my feelings). Anyone who’s watched the Raiders knows that Bateman is critical to their success. I’ve hope the people in the organisation know this too. The stakes are high.
Do us a solid and like our page on Facebook,follow us on Twitter, or share this on social media. Don’t hesitate to send us feedback (thesportress at gmail dot com) or comment below if you think we are stupid. Or if we’re not.