For months these pages have been wondering where exactly the Raiders unending list of talent would spend its time when it wasn’t in first grade. Our questions have been answered with the announcement that the Green Machine will field a team in the Canterbury Cup in 2021 for the first time since 2007.
This is such good news. When it was announced that the Raiders’ relationship with Mounties had ended there was a real risk they would have no access to a proper second tier competition. This would mean young players would face the same development cauldron that Semi Valemei was forced into. Valemei never got a chance to properly test and develop a range of skills in the relatively protected confines of Canterbury Cup. Instead he was tested by the best in the completion, and while he came through with his reputation and confidence in tact, other players may not be so lucky. Given the bevy of young talent in the backline, this could have unnecessarily damage the Raiders’ prospects, both this year and into the future.
It would also mean that the cruel competition in the forward pack would create a class of players trying to keep their skills and fitness sharp playing in the Canberra competition, which would such a step down for the experienced and near representative players that may miss out on starting jobs next year. Players like Siliva Havili, Ryan James and Ryan Sutton could conceivably miss out on the top 17 at points of next year, and while Canterbury Cup isn’t NRL, it’s a damn sight better than toiling away in the local competition. The skill level and fitness required may be a step down, but it’s enough to keep players in the range they need to succeed in the NRL.
Just avoiding these issues is a boon for the Raiders, but in having their own team it means far more control, continuity and cohesion for the Milk. While Canberra had a great deal of the approach adopted by Mounties in the past, having their own side means they can be brazen with using their Canterbury Cup squad to suit the purposes of first grade. Underdone players can get more minutes than they deserve, and young players can be trialled at positions they may not be ready for. Set plays and structures can be similar, building a style of play across grades that means that when players move in and out of the top line, there are no surprises in style or philosophy. I assume this largely was the case already in terms of the relationship with Mounties, but this will be even stronger.
Most of all though, because the Raiders and the Raiders alone will be running this club, they can build combinations with an eye on the future. Harley Smith-Shields and Semi Valemei may not start in first grade this year, but they may get a chance to build a relationship and understanding on both sides of the ball that could suit them in the years to come. This is just an illustrative example – I don’t know if Smith-Shields and Valemei will miss first grade, or if they’ll even play on the same side of the field – but it’s important to consider how useful this will be to build cohesion and connections across both squads.
Finally it’s so pleasing the see this as a strategic win for the administrative side of the club. Similar to the profit it made in the property market late last year, this kind of decision gives one a great deal of confidence and trust in the organisational wing of the club, and it’s ability to deliver for the football side of the club. The cost is obviously higher than other arrangements, and could be why the Raiders have dropped their side out of the NSW cup at the Jersey Flegg level, but this shows the willingness of the club to do what it takes to remove any obstacles to success.
So now the Raiders have everything they need for 2021. A functioning organisation, a talented football side and mechanism and support around them to make sure they are able to meet their potential. Everything is sorted on paper. If only the games were too.
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