It’s been a relatively quiet free agency period in Canberra.
As teams around the league have been rushing to finalise their rosters in time to start pre-season, there’s been barely a whisper out of the Canberra Raiders.
It’s not a typical situation. For many years the Raiders had been a preferred runoured landing spot for journalists and player-agents alike. Whenever a star wanted to make sure their home club came ready to spend, or when a player wanted to make sure their free-agency target didn’t dilly dally, Canberra would be invoked as a potential home. Shaun Johnson, Mitchell Moses, Robbie Farah, Ryley Jacks, Kurt Mann, Tim Glasby, Trent Barrett, Willie Mason, Camerson Smith, James Tamou, Brett Stewart and countless others have all been rumoured to be about to sign with Canberra, all to find homes elsewhere. It happened so often we gave it a nickname: The Raider Raise, courtesy of the great Jack Cronin.
Here’s some examples of when we’re written about it.
Of course this was a function of the Raiders not having a star-studded line-up, so agents, and teams, could plausibly assume there was cap space for their charger. The Milk would have loved to have any number of the above list, but even if they played along with agents, they were never a realistic chance for most. Even when they had publicly pointed out that they were at the cap and not looking to add players, the rumours would swirl. Canberra were left to continue on their original trajectory, rebuffed and rejected to guarantee a pay-rise somewhere else.
But as the Raiders on-field success improved over 2019 and 2020 these rumours have dried up. Only once in the 2019-2020 off-season did shenanigans emerge invoking Canberra’s name, when Adam Doueihi was inexplicably linked to the Raiders in January of 2020. Then it was a reaction to Curtis Scott’s Australia Day incident, which provided enough uncertainty that the Milk picking up another player became plausible, at least to the media listening to agents. It was blatantly unlikely, and Doueihi had signed with the Tigers within days. Canberra was merely part of the expedition of a 650k a year deal.
So far this off-season there’s been almost no news about the Raiders roster. All the recruiting was done long ago, and it was simply adding a bit of depth in the backs, and taking a flyer that a top-notch player could recapture his form. Everything else came (and is coming) from within the roster. Signings to come are about keeping talent, not buying it. Competition for spots is about the development of young players verse the experience of older players. It’s not about finding an unwanted stars.
No better was this demonstrated than in the recent progression of James Roberts’ new contract with the Tigers. In another world and another time, his name may have been seriously bandied around as an option for Canberra. And while some small rumour pages tried to make it happen (stop trying to make Fetch happen), it never reached the heights of an actual rumour and it wasn’t (to my knowledge anyway) carried by a serious news organisation.
Now they only have two roster spots left, and (hopefully) one of them is reserved for Jordan Rapana. The finalisation of the cap for 2021, and number of development players, will likely finalise Rapana’s deal, and potentially see that last roster spot go to Kai O’Donnell (if the number of development players is kept at two).
Ultimately this is how the Raider Raise is defeated – with sound roster management. As I said earlier, Canberra have made their bones recently by developing the roster they have built. They have only made minor forays into the wider competition to fill gaps. The clarity of trajectory and progress of the roster under Peter Mulholland and Ricky Stuart allows this certainty. It also provides a buffer against the rumours that have built the Raider Raise.
This is likely temporary protection. If the Raiders ever go back to being forgotten and ignored in mediocrity, they’ll return to the position of being everyone’s first choice for adding to a list of suitors, even if they aren’t interested. Here’s hoping we never see it again.
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