How good is next year?
This one has been rubbish, so the promise (hope?) of a better one next year is something we’re holding on to rather tightly. So when the NRL draw came out today we were a bit guarded, wary of what might be offered our way after the Raiders were unceremoniously stripped of their free-to-air television games during the coronavirus break.
But (relatively) good news! The Raiders have been offered seven free-to-air TV games for 2021. It’s not the eight they were promised this time last year, nor the 26 (approximately) the Broncos get, but it’s better than the two the Milk actually got in 2020.
What else does the draw tell us?
Thursday Night Raiders
Of the Raiders seven television games, five are on Thursday nights, and all of them will be tough battles. There is nothing better than winning on Thursday night and then spending all weekend basking in the glow of victory.
The last two years Canberra have found a way to bank some early wins that have set the tone for the season. The Raiders don’t face a 2021 contender (depending on how you feel about the Titans) until round 5. This is another opportunity to keep themselves north of the top 8 border before things get tough.
The hard bits
The Raiders draw doesn’t have the horror stretch they had between round 3 and 11 in 2020. However, there is a tough period where they play the Panthers, Eels, Cowboys (in North Queensland), the Bunnies and the Knights between round 5 and 9, before playing the Storm and the Roosters back to back in round 11 and 12. It makes those early rounds even more important. By round 12 we’ll have good idea of where the Raiders sit as a potential contender.
The easy bits
There doesn’t appear to be any, but that’s mostly because November is a bad time to be sure who isn’t going to be good. Outside of the early period of contender-less footy, the only other similar spot is after the bye, when the Raiders play the Broncos, Dragons, Titans, Manly and the Sharks. While the arrow was down on the Broncos in 2020, they literally cannot be worse. The Titans figure to be big improvers, and Manly are always good if they don’t have injuries.
Going, going, back, back to Wagga Wagga
In round 9 Canberra play the Knights in Wagga.
I’m glad the Raiders still have a game in Wagga. It’s a top place for footy. The ground there is sparkling, even if it is in the middle of nowhere (as much as something 10 minutes drive from Bayliss street can be. Last time there we beat the Panthers, which was a nice change from our usual regional shenanigans with them. It was also the game we realised Hudson Young was the real deal when he shifted to the edge to fill-in for John Bateman when he broke his face on Villiame Kikau. Plus I had some beers. Good day.
Wagga is rad, and it’s important that the Raiders support regional areas and build networks with them. It’s great that they’ll be there again, and I hope it’s not the last time.
Also i’m going to get the best chicken and chips in the Riverina.
The Milk are also going to Perth to play the Roosters, which should be awesome. Perth should be a focus for the NRL in the future, and I’m glad the Raiders can be part of it.
6pm games are great if your team isn’t playing. On Friday it means there’s footy on as soon as there’s a beer in your hand. On Sunday it means you don’t have to deal with reality and can hang on to the weekend a bit longer. But they are awful if your team is playing. All of sudden you’re trying to manage the vagaries of life while trying to watch your team. No bueno in my opinion.
The Raiders have four of these this year: Sharks on Sunday night in round 2, Dragons on Friday in round 21, Manly and Warriors in back to back Fridays in round 23 and 24.
I’m almost certain teams look for these first when they peruse the draw. Short turnarounds put pressure on rosters, test fitness (and injuries) and throw out the normal routine of the week.
The Raiders have three turnarounds of five days. In round eight they take on the Bunnies on Thursday after a Saturday night (and probably most of Sunday) in North Queensland. They also play in Manly on a Thursday in round 17 after Saturday at home, and then do it all against when they take on the Eels on a Thursday in round 19 five days after the Sharks.
Strength of schedule
Canberra play the Storm, Eels and Roosters twice. They’ll all be tough games. They also have multiple games against Manly, the Sharks and Knights, as well as the Warriors, Titans, and the Dragons. That looks like a fair draw to me.