The Fit of Fogarty

BY DAN

For months most Canberra Raiders fans have been stewing over just who would be the starting seven in 2022. Finally an answer has emerged, with Pete Badel and Channel 9 both reporting that Jamal Fogarty is asking out of his deal with the Gold Coast, and Canberra is the team prying him away.

It’s a perfectly adequate resolution to a difficult situation. The need to fill George Williams position at number seven was quickly becoming untenable for the Raiders. A host of names had been speculated, however none felt to have a significant likelihood of ever making it to Canberra. Fogarty may not have the status of other options but he’s a good match, in both style and roster fit, and he’ll give much of the output of any other option considered.

Fogarty is a good fit structurally for the Raiders and addresses a series of gaps left by the departure of Williams. He is comfortable as a lead organiser of the side and will be able to get the side around the park – indeed his ability to run the show was a big part of Ash Taylor’s better form this season. He’ll slot in on the right and at first receiver, allowing Wighton to sit happily on the left edge and to make simple decisions around run/short pass/long pass without the need to be more involved in the dirty work of directing the side around. A similar relationship with Aidan Sezer and George Williams has seen Wighton play his best footy.

Fogarty’s also a capable ball player, and it should be a boon for the runners outside him. He’s averaged 11 try assists a season since he’s come to the league (13 in 21 appearances in 2021), which is more than any current Raider has averaged in that period. He’ll be happy shepherding the right side attack, particularly close to the line, as well as operating at first receiver when the Raiders set up in the right tram to sweep left. He should also give both Matt Timoko and whoever plays right side back row out of Elliott Whitehead or Corey Harawira-Naera much more structured involvements that allow them to hit holes or take advantage of overlaps, rather than have to create from nothing, as they so often were asked to in 2021.

He’ll engage the line much more than the Raiders sevens did this season. So often attack Canberra halves just shuffled the ball sideways without threatening the defence at all. This had the effect of putting pressure on the outside backs, providing no space to work, even with early ball. Fogarty isn’t scared of the defence, with 118 line engagements in 2021, good for 9th in the competition (Jack Wighton led the Green Machine with 84 for the season). He’s happy running the ball, averaging an easy 75 metres a game in 2021. That’s almost as many as Wighton managed this season (83 per game). These are numbers that are probably inflated by the style of footy played these days, and the Titans preference for not playing defence open footy, but it’s heartening to think Canberra could have a good organising half that will keep defences honest.

Canberra will also enjoy his short kicking game. Fogarty found repeat sets pretty readily in 2021, forcing 11 (that compares favourable to any Raider). His long kicking game doesn’t find the grass enough, but that’s never been a strength of this side. Hopefully Wighton and Hodgson can take a larger role in that role. Oh yeah, and he can kick goals. Bonza.

Defensively he’s not Chanel Harris-Tavita but he’s hardly a liability. He’s not laterally agile either, so he’ll need to work closely with Timoko and whoever plays at right backrow to ensure that defensive edge returns to a space where it’s more 2019 than 2021. But the important thing is he’s willing in contact, and that’s the thing you need most from your halves and hookers.

The major criticism of Fogarty’s game is his relative lack of pace and agility (as Josh Papalii discovered so famously). He’s not quick, and he’ll never beat his man with anything other than footy intellect. That always puts a limit on how good he can be, but given how many ‘brilliant’ athletes the Milk have in the squad, it’s nice that the person with their hand on the tiller drives safe and slow.

Fogarty is 27 and this eliminates some of the risk associated with picking up a new half. He’s spent plenty of time playing cup footy in Queensland, so like the Hussey’s playing shield cricket for years before making the top line, he knows his game inside out. He rarely stretches beyond what he’s capable of, and it never feels like he’s holding the side back, even if he might not be propelling them forward. That knowledge of self will be critical, because he’ll be coached by the man who puts more halves offside than a dodgy linesman. Tough love is hard when you’re not sure of your game. Hopefully years toiling away in obscurity means Fogarty is suitably secure.

A two-year deal is a good fit with the squad going forward too. It should give Brad Schneider the time he needs playing cup footy to develop his own game, and the Raiders the time to observe him to know what they have. They’ve missed so much of that opportunity over the last two years, and this deal resets the clock on what Schneider might be (not to mention to bevy of Queensland talent they’re bringing down such as Mason Pintegne). He won’t be on massive coin – though likely more than most would pay him (huzzah for the Canberra recruitment tax), but won’t end their ability to stay in play for tormented talent that becomes available. The only sticking point for me is not about him, but rather the ongoing fit of Josh Hodgson into this mix. As we’ve said before, Starling has been anointed, and Fogarty doesn’t need someone to essentially do his job for him.

Assuming a two-year deal at a reasonable price, Fogarty is a smart pick up for the Green Machine. He’s not exciting, and won’t single-handedly drag the side to the finals. But he’s a square peg square hold for the Milk, providing the organisation, ball play and short kicking game that they need. He’s hardly a saviour – the Raiders won’t return to relevance just because Jamal Fogarty is in the side – but he won’t hold them back. Indeed he might just help some other players focus on what they do best.

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