If the Raiders are going to return to a force in the National Rugby League, they are going to fix a lot of their problems this off-season.
It’s a big ask. They obviously need to get get more mobile. Faster, more agile, and with better endurance to handle the
idiocy challenge that is the current rulebook. They’ve hired Jeremy Hickmans to do just that. The early photos are great so see. Corey Horsburgh and Emre Guler sweating. Hudson Young right back at it like he’s not earned veteran status to turn up later this week. Tom Starling running away from his teammates like he runs away from the cops his demons defenders. They haven’t even got most of the top line squad back, but already it’s looking like it’s going to be a tiring summer.
Coach Stuart has always done his most influential work between seasons. The success of 2019 was built in the frustrating off-season of that summer. The off-season was spent turning a patchy defence into nearly a perfect unit. The players didn’t enjoy it – Josh Papalii noted on more than one occasion that he valued, but didn’t enjoy, the rocket that Assistant Coach Andrew McFadden was charged with putting up his spirit that summer. But it was worth it, and the work done in November was a big part of why they were still playing next October.
Similarly in the summer of 2020/21, the shorter turnaround, the array of infringements by players who should have had too much at risk to be so silly, and the failure to adapt the playing style (and indeed doubling down in roster makeup) to a new reality, was like planting a Durian tree (do you plant Durian trees? Do they grow on trees? You know what, I’d rather not know) that bore fruit in the darkest days of May.
So with such a clear and repeatable pathway to success, it’s pleasing to see the early evidence suggests that the right work is being done. Of course, none of that guarantees anything. There’s a million other things that need to be fixed other than the players’ ability to run in straight lines. But if seeing Corey Horsburgh exhaustedly fist-bumping Caleb Esera doesn’t make you smile then I don’t know what to tell you.
Indeed the only thing I can tell you is beware the ‘training down the house’ story. It’s almost a meme at this point – a trope beaten into the ground by rugby league writer’s with nothing to write about and everything to say. Small data points like ‘Bailey Simonsson ran a quick 100’ stripped of all their context and utility, given weight well beyond their worth and in turn turning building blocks for future improvement into fodder for hot takes of undue certainty. Corey Horsburgh is running a lot, but that doesn’t mean his frame will be physically dominant at a lighter weight. Bailey Simonsson did run quicker, but last season he delivered five kilograms of pure muscle and it didn’t turn him into Wendell Sailor.
Regardless, it’s better to see them doing the right thing rather than not. Doing the work doesn’t mean you get the prize. But you can’t win if you don’t put in (put that on a poster!). So far, the Raiders are doing the right thing.