The most inevitable coupling since Ross and Rachel did their dance has found it’s resolution today with Jamal Fogarty finally being released by the Gold Coast Titans and agreeing to terms with the Raiders, as reported by David Riccio in the Daily Telegraph.
From the moment the rumours emerged it was clear the Raiders and Fogarty had mutual interest. The Milk were offering more years at reportedly twice the price that the Titans half was on (a still bargain basement 330k per year), as well as a pretty much guaranteed starting job. The Titans were offering less money, less game time and a potentially embarassing demotion in favour of youth and talent.
It’s a good outcome for the Raiders (good, not great). We wrote recently about this, so here’s a quick recap. Fogarty is a good fit, both in his immediate on field impact as well as his position in the roster. He’ll be the prime organiser, handling the ball much more than Jack Wighton and pushing the side around the ground. He’ll slot in on the right and at first receiver, and it means Jack won’t be asked to do more than he already is (i.e make the run/pass long/pass short decisions on the left edge that have been part of his game since his move to fullback). Will it bring out the best for Jack? Only time will tell, but it’s worth noting that playing with Fogarty took the pressure of Ash Taylor this season, and he had his best season in years (which isn’t saying much, but still).
He’s a better ball-player than people realise – he’s had more try assists in the past two years than either Jack Wighton or Josh Hodgson. He engages the line with more threat than any Canberra halfback of recent times (including George Williams). Fogarty had 118 line engagements in 2021, good for 9th in the competition (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). And on top of his cool head he’s got a handy short kicking game (though it should be noted that his long kicking game isn’t elite).
Defensively he’s not agile but he’s willing. His defensive numbers are fine – his tackle efficiency numbers (89.4%) and try causes (13) both compare pretty favourably to other halves in the market. His aggressive in contact – a bigger body means that he’s always been happy to jam up on ball-runners to give his colleagues time to get around and help him out. He’ll be helped out here by the Raiders making a smart choice at right edge back-rower and sticking with it for a while. Some cohesion between him and Matt Timoko and [insert Corey Harawira-Naera or Elliott Whitehead here] will go a long way to ameliorating any defensive concerns. In fact, that remains the only clear question about this decision – do the Raiders protect Fogarty and Timoko defensively and chuck Elliott Whitehead there? Or is the feeling that Harawira-Naera’s brutal ball running and second-phase play covers for inconsistent defence?
Most importantly Fogarty is the best case scenario available to the Raiders right now. He is far and away the best half on Canberra’s roster. Check out these graphics from The Rugby League Eye Test.
Actually, before you do that, go follow the Rugby League Eye Test on Twitter, or click the website. My dude does some of the best statistical analysis of league in general. Read this piece, or this piece. And just appreciate that he does this for you beautiful people.
Essentially these graphics compare Fogarty to the Raiders 2021 halfbacks on a range of metrics. It shows just how far ahead of Sam Williams and Matt Frawley the Titans halfback was. It also shows a favourable comparison on with George Williams. Now there’s reasons for all these numbers and variables that contribute to them well beyond the individual, but the point is that it’s pretty clear that Fogarty represents a significant upgrade. Statistically he stands above the other options Canberra had at their disposal, as well as the other targets – like Chanel Harris-Tavita – the Raiders were looking at.
The good news is that the Green Machine are getting this upgrade for next to nothing. 330 a year is about 60 per cent of what they were paying George Williams, two-thirds of what they paid Aidan Sezer, and less than half of what other favoured candidates like Mitchell Pearce and Luke Brooks. It provides the Raiders with the flexibility to continue to rebuild their roster after their recent clear-out. The departure of Dunamis Lui, Sia Soliola, Siliva Havili and Ryan James more than accounts for the Fogarty money. It means that even with an array of upgrades over the last few months (for example, the entire backline), the Raiders probably have a fair bit of cap space available, and that doesn’t even account whatever happens to Josh Hodgson’s 800k over the next 12 months.
While the Raiders rarely have much success in the free agent market, they’ll be able to remain active there should they need to. The other benefit is the length of Fogarty has signed is that he’s unlikely to stand in the way of the young talent already on the Raiders roster if something remarkable happens. Canberra can wear 330k a year in dead-cap if they happen to catch lightening in a bottle elsewhere.
In the end Fogarty isn’t going to break the bank, and neither is he going to be the difference between relevance and otherwise. If Canberra are intent on finding a way back into the finals – and further – they’ll need a substantial return to form for a number of players, the continued exponential improvement of young players in the backline, and the flourishing of one or two new findings in the pack. Fogarty is a floor for that, rather than someone that will punch them through the ceiling of our hopes and dreams.
And that’s ok. The Raiders have enough talent on the rest of the roster to be a serious NRL team again. They can’t do that with some a glaring hole as they had at halfback in 2021. Fogarty mightn’t be the main man, but he can certainly make sure other people on the roster find a way to reach that spot. He might not be glamorous. But that might be exactly what the Raiders need.