What’s in the Draw

BY DAN

I haven’t been to a rugby league game since the 2019 grand final.

No this isn’t some penance or pain that has driven me away from the game. It’s been a long time, but not purposeful. Living in Melbourne has made getting around difficult over the last two years. Both Raiders games here have either been not played here or played in front of no one. Games I’d planned to travel for were either moved north or only available for Canberrans. Once again, coronavirus can cram it.

More than anything I’m hoping to get back to God’s country and sit in the sun on a Sunday afternoon with a beer and a dream about finals footy. If you ever happen to see me there I will try to hug you. So today’s draw has been something I’ve waited some time for. There’s plenty of chances to go home and see you, and the glorious Canberra Raiders. I’m very much looking forward to it. Here are the other things we saw in the draw.

TV games

The story (and mostly the reality) has always been the Green Machine rate their pants of on Fox, but not on free-to-air. Partly that’s to do with the proportion of the Canberra fanbase that has fox – 300k Raiders fans watching on Fox is a big deal, but on FTA it doesn’t cut the mustard. Even when they’re a contender, free-to-air wants nothing to do with them – along with needlessly handing millions of bucks back to the free-to-air broadcaster in the 2020 Covid break, V’Landys allowed them to take host of free-to-air games off the Milk.

So here we are, looking at this draw with 8 free-to-air games, confused. There were years where the Raiders would have a handful and be expected to muddle through. Now they’re coming off a down on-field year, and two in which their finances have no doubt been challenged. This is molto fortunato. 8 will mean good value for the Milk’s new sponsor (should we start calling them the Forklifts? The lifts? Help me out) which is good news for the Raiders. They’re almost all Sunday afternoon versions, which is fine. Let’s just hope V’Landys doesn’t randomly change his mind, the rules, or the very fabric of the game on a whim again.

Start/finish

The early bit will be a real feeling out period. If the Milk have any pretences on being good, the Sharks, Cows, Titans, and Sea-Eagles is a pretty manageable test to overcome early. It will be a real ‘sorting’ period early for all these top 8 ‘hopefuls’ (as opposed to certain things).

The hard bits

Sharks, Bunnies, Eels, Roosters from round 10-13 is probably the only sustained period of relative difficulty (that the Raiders don’t make for themselves)

Going, going, back, back to Wagga Wagga

Thi is the third year I’ve talked about this. In round 5 Canberra play the Storm in Wagga.

I’m glad the Raiders have another 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 year’s game I couldn’t go to, and it worked out for me because that second half capitulation to the Knights was infuriating. Even the Riverina’s best chicken and chips couldn’t save it.

Not a paid advertisement. I will end up putting $50 into this business over the weekend.

The last time I went there was 2019 and 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.

But not to Sydney

As noted by several readers (shouts to Adam Anselmo and Ben Reid) the Raiders only have two games in Sydney. That’s unusual, and disappointing for Sydney fans. The impact on the Raiders is less clear.

Short turnarounds

Short turnarounds put pressure on rosters, test fitness (and injuries) and throw out the normal routine of the week. Last year the Raiders avoided any of the dreaded Sunday-Thursday turnaround and only copped four occasions of Sunday-Friday or Saturday Thursday. Interestingly they only lost one of those games. Each game came after a heartbreaking loss (it was hard to avoid them last year) and after each it felt like the quick turnaround was helpful to get back on the horse so to speak. In fact the only loss of the lot (v the Bunnies in round 8) could have arguably been avoided if George Williams hadn’t injured his hamstring in the warm up.

For the 2022 season the Raiders have 1 Saturday/Thursday. That’s it. Good times.

Game time

There is not a 6pm game I want the Raiders to play. 6pm games, be they Friday or Sunday are great to watch casually. I love finishing work on Friday and already having footy at my finger tips. I love realising Sunday night there’s still a bit of footy to make me feel like Monday isn’t quite here yet. But when it’s your team it’s the worst time – life interferes too often. Unfortunately as a team that no one (bar us) cares about, and because they can be relied on to turn up a good number on Fox, we get more than our fair share of 6pm games. We start this year with one, but after that there’s only one more (round 9 v the Dogs).

In addition the Raiders have a bunch of home afternoon games, another win for the pestering the league into giving a crap about them (with this and the free-to-air games what the hell is going on), the Raiders have managed to score a bunch of afternoon games at Bruce. This is a victory for people attending the game because they can hopefully grasp a bit of that meek glorious Canberra winter sun rather than bask in the painfully cold air of a night game. I suspect this is driven by the business side of the club (i.e. getting people through the doors) because I’m not sure there’s a conclusive case either way the side performs better during day or night.

Revenge games

It’s weird to think of this as a thing. The Raiders have done so much of their building in the past by pillaging England rather than other NRL clubs. And the players that have left have usually done so with some modicum of goodwill between the player and the Milk.

This year that changes. The Raiders pinched the Titans captain, and while there wasn’t any animosity (that we could tell) about it, I’m sure Jamal Fogarty will want to have a big game when Canberra face them in round 3 at home though. Similarly, assuming Josh Hodgson is with the Tigers next year (still on the top 30 roster….for now), the Milk face them in round 25. That’s going to be a tough game emotionally, no matter the result, particularly if finals aspirations are at risk.

Strength of schedule

You can see how I feel about these assessments here: but the TLDR version is that they genuinely aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. Easy draws become hard when you’re not good at footy. Hard draws become easier when you are. Outside of situational issues like short turnarounds and noting where tough periods might be, the assignment of a draw of easy or hard before the season is pointless. It’s one of those things that’s only really clear in hindsight. Or as we said back in the day:

I have no doubt that ease of draw can play a role in where the Raiders finish. But trying to ascertain the measure of that ease ex-ante is nothing but a way to pass the time until the season starts. 

Me motherflippers

Indulgence

The last two years I’ve been keen to go the versus Melbourne at Melbourne game only to have that cruelly ripped away. This time I’m hoping the world hold’s together so me and some good people can sit in that corner of AAMI again (round 18). I’m also hoping to get to the Wagga game (round 5). And god-willing, I’m hoping to be there for one of those 8 afternoon games in God’s country.

See you at the footy. Hopefully.

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