The Luck of Failure


A club with money is like a mule with a spinning wheel. No one knows how he got it, and danged if he knows how to use it

– Lyle Langley probably

The Canberra Raiders missed out on Adam Elliott and are now working out what to do with that money. No sooner had Elliott marked his departure card that reports emerged that the Raiders were looking at Jack Hetherington as a potential replacement. Reports have now emerged that the Milk missed out. Terrible luck right? There’s just one problem.

Jack Hetherington is not good at footy.

Well, not not good. He’s obviously good enough to play first grade. My hamstring got tight walking down stairs today so I’m hardly one to judge. He’s obviously a capable footballer but at the top level the gap between a useful squad member and reggies isn’t large. Hetherington is not a chump, but his utility and effectiveness is overvalued by most commentators enamoured with his style of play. “Aggressive”, “physical” and a “tone-setter” are the words they bandy about. It’s often these attributes are overvalued by the commentariat, and can lead players like Hetherington to be overrated.

How do we know this? For Hetherington there’s not much in his history that gets one excited. His best season is basically 100m on average for a Dogs side that won two games he played. It’s the only time he’s remotely got close to that number. For comparison Corey Horsburgh is two years younger and is on track to do that for the second time (and other years of 99, 93 and 91 metres per game). Emre Guler – currently watching from the outside – has more successful seasons than Hetherington, again despite being two years younger.

People like that he can lay a hit, which is fine when he’s not getting suspended for it. But last season (his only in a consistent starter role) his tackle efficiency was around 90 percent, which for a middle forward is disastrous (and is why Emre Guler isn’t playing regular first grade). Being an “aggressive” or “physical” defender isn’t much use when you don’t actually lay a hit, or give away a penalty when you do. It may have not hurt as much when six-again was all that resulted, heck it was probably a weapon, but now it can often result in a piggy-back down the ground. He’s all the worst bits of Corey Horsburgh’s game without the upside.

Hetherington is also older, more expensive, and less good at footy than a handful of Canberra middle forwards currently fighting for minutes at the edges of first grade. A pitch like this to a player in his “prime” is usually laden with explicitly or implicit guarantees about playing time, combined with assurance that their performance will be solid that what is on the roster. We’ve mentioned his inferiority to Horsburgh and Guler, but signing Hetherington would have put an expensive roadblock in front of Harry Rushton, Trey Mooney, Peter Hola and Ata Mariota (amongst others). Even if the plan was insurance in case these middles don’t work out, Hetherington is an expensive risk-heavy way to spend three years of your salary cap (as is rumoured the Knights have offered).

So why were the Raiders reportedly interested – and even “fighting” the Knights for this walking penalty? Partly this is a Raiders Raise scenario of the dirtiest order. Hetherington needed a new deal and leveraged the gobsmacking interest of multiple clubs against each other. It’s also possible Canberra have remained interested just to make sure the Knights fill their cap space as quickly as possible. The Green Machine lost out to them on the Adam Elliott deal, and may have feigned interest in Hetherington, or overblown it, in order to make sure the Knights pay full value (and wow three years is full value) to remove a competitor for other talent. This is something I speculated about on the Herbie Farnworth negotiations. This would be a weirder example but football, as the kids say, do be like that.

Missing out on Hetherington will likely be a blessing in disguise, much like Canberra’s on-again, off-again dalliance with Matt Dufty last year was. There are better versions of Hetherington in-house, and players with higher ceilings waiting for a chance. There are cheaper options on the market for what Canberra need. The Raiders should be looking for more efficient ways to utilise their cap space. Having talented young middles is one way you do that. Over-paying for “talent” that has a track record of mediocrity isn’t.

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