Hickmans’ Contribution


About six weeks ago, in the darkest hour, we were all looking for answers as to why. Why couldn’t the Raiders find eighty minutes of effort? Why did they keep switching off when things got difficult? Why did they keep hurting themselves like this? Why were we, grown-ass adults, ruining our weekends by building our entire identities and self-worth around the efforts of other grown men only discernible by laundry?

Ok maybe the last one was just me.

One explanation that many fell on was fitness. After the debacle of 2021 when Canberra were visibly cooked the longer games went on, it was a fair place to start. New conditioning guru Jeremy Hickmans had started in the off-season. He’d come highly touted, having being Wayne Bennett’s trainer of choice for the better part of 15 years. But perhaps his theory of work focused around repeated anaerobic efforts (as opposed to previous regime’s more endurance based work) was missing the mark.

I never really subscribed to this theory. While fitness (or at least, appropriate conditioning to the V’Landysball style of footy) did seem to be a problem last year, Canberra’s collapses didn’t seem to be driven by fatigue. In some of their most notable losses they were making effort plays right up to the end. It’s just they were doing incredibly idiotic stuff in between. That’s not to say fatigue wasn’t part of it. On some occasions they were dropping so much ball in such inopportune places that their ability to withstand raid after raid on their line was worn thin. Rather it wasn’t a driving feature; a symptom rather than a cause of their malaise. It always felt to me that if they could be less error-prone it would make their fatigue magically depart.

In the last six weeks that’s largely been proven true, and the result has been a resounding stamp of approval in Jeremy Hickmans’ work. The Raiders are hardly dominating second halves, but there’s been a marked improvement in their play, and something approaching an eighty minute focus. Even in their inability score against the Broncos, they never felt physically overwhelmed and lacking in pace in the way they’d felt last season. While this is more congruent than proof that Hickmans has done his job, it is at least indicative that the idea that progress has been made.

If we look at specific cases we can see better evidence that improvement has been made. Take for example, Atlas the holder of the heavens Joe Tapine. This time last year, Tapine was playing around 40 minutes in a game, frustrating most Canberra fans (and, famously, his partner when he only played 30-odd minutes a few times). Evidently, Coach Stuart was circumspect about how much of the load he could bare. In Sticky’s defence, it was supported by the big man’s occasional defensive lapses.

Fast forward a year and there’s been a resounding change in Tapine’s play. Many have remarked on Tapine looking as fit as he ever has. Indeed Mick Ennis said as much in the coverage of Raiders/Broncos on Saturday. This is supported by the way he’s playing. In the last month he’s played 53, 57, 54, 62 minutes in games. He’s done so while becoming arguably one of the form props of the competition, punching out 200 plus metres with incredible regularity (in all but one of those games). He’s so comfortable with his fitness that’s there’s no easing into games. Instead Tapine takes multiple carries in sets from the start of the game, a game of chicken with opposing middles predicated on the idea that it doesn’t matter how long the game goes, he’ll be the one that wears them down, not the other way around. What’s more, the complaint than Tapine can fatigue in defence is increasingly proving wrong, no better demonstrated than this all-effort try saver against the Broncos.

This is borne out in the numbers. His tackle efficiency is up to 96.5% (per NRL numbers), and he’s never made so many tackles with so few missed at any point in his career.

Tapine isn’t the only example of Hickmans’ impact. Corey Horsburgh has also started to show a fatigue-less game that would surprise anyone that’s followed his career (and physical inability to actually look fit regardless of how fit he is – I feel ya Corey). Like Tapine, Horsburgh’s minutes are massively up in recent weeks (around 50 minutes a game – up from usually in the high 30s, and as little as 20-25 minutes a game for periods last year). His metres and carries are up too, and in 2022 he’s up to an average 108 metres a game, a career high, a number that will likely be on it’s way up given he has passed 100 plus metres in five of the last seven games. Like Tapine Horsburgh’s defence is improving, and similarly he’s never made so many tackles with so few misses. It’s good to see from the Raiders short and long-term perspectives, and evidence that Hickmans might be making progress with the Red Horse.

It’s worth noting that these examples could be circumstantial. Improvements made to one or two players are not all the players, and attributing cause and effect when all we have knowledge of is circumstantial improvements is hardly definitive. These players have done the work, so I don’t want to overstate how much someone watching has changed things. It’s also hard to account for how much of a role the now annual rule changes have made.

But the play of the club, and of these players in particular, has been so markedly different to last season that is possible to think that Hickmans is making a difference.

If you like our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or share this on social media you can have your money back, no questions asked. Don’t hesitate to send us feedback (thesportress at gmail dot com) or comment below if you think we are stupid. Or if we’re not.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s