This opens up an old wound for Raiders fans. After so much talent has walked out the door, we at least thought that the relative success would stop the drain. But again, the Green Machine have to watch young talent they identified, developed and watched succeed leave for big money elsewhere. Regardless of how and why this occured this will hurt Canberra people. Cotric was as home-grown as they come, and it’s frustrating he’s had to find his money elsewhere.
It’s a profound change that has occured over 2020 for the Green Machine. We speculated at the end of 2019 that perhaps the Raiders were losing their oft-spurned status and becoming a spot where players wanted to be. It’s hard to think that now. With the disappearance of John Bateman and Nic Cotric, both talents nurtured in Canberra (to differing degrees), it’s hard to feel that anyone can make this claim with a straight face.
It does raise questions about the Green Machine’s contract approach. The Raiders have displayed a almost ‘Patriots’-style rigidity with their cap management here. Cotric is reportedly signed on for 650k which is a large amount of coin for an outside back, and if he doesn’t develop a ball-playing skill it would be a substantial over-pay. But this is what happens when you’re trying to buy legitimacy. Ask the Titans why they offered David Fifita $1.25 million year.
The Raiders baulked at this much; evidently reasoning that 650k was too much to pay a winger. They similarly baulked at substantial money for John Bateman (upwards of 800k). In both situations they evidently identified a worth and refused to budge from there. In Cotric’s circumstance they hoped length was more important that amount, but it turns out that hopeful gamble was wrong. Given the players on the roster, and that Bateman was off the cap from next year, you would think that space would exist to find the difference existed, and Canberra simply decided to not meet it.
This discipline is admirable when you have multiple teams throwing silly money around in brazen attempts to buy legitimacy. That doesn’t mean these decisions are right however; part of the art of contract management is knowing when to break the rules. I hope the Raiders have got it right.
Canberra made a clear identification that Cotric was a winger, and a winger only. If you’ve watched him play you can see that logic – he’s yet to develop anything approaching the defensive decision-making or the ball-playing ability that would prove he could play a bigger role inside. He also hasn’t been given a chance, is only 21, and given his talent level there’s every likelihood he will. If he develops into the star his ‘upside’ promises, 650 doesn’t feel so expensive. Even with that in mind, the rigidity of not letting him at least have a crack at centre is confusing, particularly given the dearth of options available at the moment.
It’s also important to consider what role the Raiders see for players like Harley Smith-Shields and Andre Niko going forward. Bailey Simonsson is hardly a sure thing (though he is developing rapidly) and Jordan Rapana is on the backside of his career (though you’d think he’d be able to stay in Canberra longer after this decision). Jarrod Croker isn’t going anywhere, ever. The Raiders have effectively chosen Curtis Scott over both Cotric and BJ Leilua, and right now neither decision feels right. We’re now looking beyond that quartet and hoping that the next generation is the solution to Scott’s poor beginning in Canberra.
The Raiders will no doubt miss Cotric. He’s one of the hardest players to tackle in the league, does incredible yardage work and is safe under the high ball. He may not be a centre yet, but he’s felt increasingly like the best solution for the Green Machine’s problems at this position. Whether he ever ends up being worth the contract only time will tell. It may end up being a lose-lose for both teams – echoing the departure of Shannon Boyd at the end of 2018. Heading to the Bulldogs may free up more opportunity but it also will ask more responsibility. The Dogs are paying for fully-developed star, not a brilliant ball-runner needing ongoing development. There’s not much other talent there, and it’s now on him to be a big difference maker.
Let me also say I’m happy for Cotric. If the money is what has been reported, then we can only support Nic in trying to earn as much money as he can while he can. I understand from his perspective that the longer term deal offered by the Milk didn’t match the money. If there was a feeling that he could only fulfil his potential playing centre at the Bulldogs, then I’m happy for him to pursue that dream, and can only wonder why the Raiders didn’t see a future for him in that same spot.
Right now for me it’s nothing but sadness. These are the guys you want to start, develop and end their careers in Canberra. Yet again we’re watching talent curated at home depart. That’s the point of the salary cap. But it only seems to impact the Raiders.
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