The Window Closes

BY DAN

John Bateman has reportedly informed the Canberra Raiders he would be leaving the club at the end of 2020. This means the Raiders’ premiership window, if not outright slammed, is much less open than we thought at the beginning of 2020.

Before we get going let’s start by thanking Bateman for his time in Canberra. There’s no shame in moving on – as John himself has said there’s limited time for him to make money, and he’s got a family to take care of. It’s also worth remembering that Bateman would likely have stayed if the Raiders had found that extra money. Also, 2019 was such a beautiful gift to the Green Machine that it feels petty to tinge it with rancour directed at Bateman. He was all we could have hoped for and more.

I’ll never forget him feigning to throw the ball at the Titans players. It was an announcement. Bateman was here, and he, and therefore the Raiders, weren’t going to take any more shit. In the following weeks he stepped Kalyn Ponga and make him look like the fall guy in a ‘And-One’ highlights video. Then he pushed Luke Keary over for fun. In the meantime he helped the Green become a lean, mean fighting machine. There are few moments in my life that I was happier in than when he cut inside to receive a flick pass off BJ Leilua in Melbourne.

The real talk is there is no replacement for John Bateman. Joe Tapine isn’t it. Hudson Young may well be really good in the future but right now he’s still a project. And if you think Harry Rushton is going to play first grade next year, let alone fill Bateman’s production, then I think we all need a lie down.

Can the Raiders manufacture most of his output in some way? Young is the best long term solution, bringing some of the defence and some of the offence that Bateman provides. But even the most optimistic projection of Young’s development would be brave to put him in the same stratosphere as Bateman. The ability to play a creative and power role at the same time on offence, and the ability to be human white-out in defence is such a rare mix. Add to that his unbridled competitive nature and you’re not so much trying to develop someone to match, but rather talking about fantasies of creating backrowers in labs.

Canberra may still compete for a premiership this year with the return of Bateman, or next year with smart recruitment, but it would be a braver person than I to call those things certain. It will take substantial improvement from the replacement for Bateman, be it Tapine or Young, as well as the other players on the roster. George Williams needs to become an elite defender for a half. Curtis Scott (or whoever is our long term right centre) needs to become a rock. Someone on this team needs to become the competitor that refuses to take a play off. It could all still be there, but we’ve only seen it in smatterings in 2020.

All these changes and improvements that could fill the gap are not timed for now or even next year. It will likely take Young a few years to develop and establish himself. George Williams and Curtis Scott are both young and early in their NRL careers. This means by the time we know whether they’re elite, Josh Hodgson could be 32, Elliott Whitehead 32 and Josh Papalii 30. It puts a lot of pressure on the Raiders to get their next recruitment and retention steps 100 per cent right. There’s no more wiggle room or space for errors that John Bateman can paper over.

There’s no good way to spin this Canberra fans. This is a blow. I feel down, sad in the way that you start saying silly comparisons about how sad you are to things that actually matter. But the pain, the pit in the stomach, the deflation and feeling of “what is the point?” is all there. 2020 is out here still kicking our butts.

I apologise for being melodramatic but Bateman is such a critical part of this teams success. We’ve seen how the right side has reverted to the past in recent weeks. Bateman provided a remarkable quick fix, and now Sticky must go back to the drawing board and find a way to solve a problem that was only ever fixed while John was here.

This is a crud day, and I’m sad to see John announce he’s moving on.

Up the Raiders.

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