The Signal and the Noise

BY DAN

It was reported by Danny Weidler that George Williams is feeling homesick.

This is entirely understandable. Anyone that has family outside of Australia can tell you being separated from them is a pile of stinking trash. Add to that George’s partner is pregnant and the tendency to want to settle around caring networks is strong. The Raiders have done what they can by offering him every support they have (and some they’ll have to clear with the NRL). They’ve also told him they’ll keep him around for the extent of his contract (until the end of next season) but at this stage it would take a brave person to suggest George will be in Canberra beyond the end of this season, if he even makes it that far. This isn’t Milkdom’s first overseas player rodeo.

This would be manageable if it was an isolated incident. But it’s not. It has to be seen in light of recent comments by Josh Papalii and Joe Tapine’s partners, as well as the off-season bans on Coreys Harawira-Naera and Horsburgh. It comes on the back of the worst on-field period of Canberra’s recent heritage, in which the people’s rugby league football team has fallen over in the second halves of games again, and again, and again, and for fucks sake again. It’s created a maelstrom around the side that I’ve never seen before.

Update: And now Josh Hodgson is being shopped around. Just kill me now.

Are the Raiders imploding?

There are two possible explanations. One goes nothing is that wrong, we’re just seeing more noise than signal as a reaction to some disappointing results. The players are sick of losing, they’re frustrated, and it’s playing out in a range of ways. Journalists are doing their part by paying more attention to a team that was advertised as a contender so things that may have gone under the radar in the past are suddenly newsworthy. As we saw in the last twenty minutes of the Souths game, the players are not giving up. All they need is a few wins, and some better footy to bring some clear air and opportunity for reflection about how beautiful winter mornings are overlooking Lake Burley Griffin. Suddenly everyone will be happy again.

The other explanation is one we considered, but rejected in the off-season: that there is a cultural issue in the side. This would broadly boil down to the fact that Ricky Stuart’s approach is no longer effective. It happens to coaches. There’s no science to it, but there’s agreement across sports that after a while players just get sick of the same voice. The evidence supporting these sorts of takes is circumstantial. We see misbehaviour. We see players’ wives making comments on social media that are um…curious? We see team performance collapsing in a certain way, and Coach Stuart seemingly unable to find a way to stop it, shifting from coddling to castigating with such rapidity we’re left dizzy. He seems as confused by it all as we are. That is not a good thing.

I’m not going to tell you it’s ok. You should be worried. It is clear that there is plenty of noise around the team right now, and pretending otherwise is wilful ignorance. If this noise is caused by the season’s outcomes rather than the culture, does the rain come even harder on the back of another loss? At what point does the noise become the catalyst of events rather than the by-product of it? We only ever see the outcomes, rather than the inputs, so we’re almost the last to know when things go wrong.

But the chaos now doesn’t have to be permanent. It’s not as though if Papalii and Tapine crack 150 metres on the weekend in a big Canberra victory everything is suddenly OK (wouldn’t hurt though guys). George Williams seems set on going home. But it’s amazing how many problems winning solves. The only solution to this is stability, time and quiet. And probably success.

We’ll watch what happens with George Williams. We’ll watch what happens with the side. But the only people that can tell you what is going on in that clubhouse are the men wearing the jerseys. I don’t feel particularly positive about things right now, but when you’re in this deep the only way to dig is up.

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