Recruitment Stasis


By this time last year the Raiders were in the process of adding both Jamal Fogarty and Adam Elliott to their team. They’d add Nic Cotric a few weeks later, Ryan James, Dunamis Lui, Sia Soliola, Dary Medlyn and Kai O’Donnell had already been moved on in what we’d called a ‘clearout’ of the Milk’s middle, an attempt to modernise a pack built in 2018 to win the competition in 2022. Josh Hodgson was still six weeks or so from signing with the Eels, but the negotiations with the Tigers had been ongoing for some time. It was clear he was going, it was just a matter of when. Bailey Simonsson would join him around the same time.

In short, there was a fair bit going on.

This off-season the Raiders have confirmed the signing of Pasami Saulo and that’s about it. Joe Tapine is staying, which is ace, but that wouldn’t have impact next year. To be fair there’s a fair amount of movement in the out tray. Harry Rushton, Ryan Sutton and Adam Elliott have been known movements for months now. Sam Williams retired. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is on his way home. When you account for movement and the upgrade of Ata Mariota to a top 30 contract, the Raiders only have 25 of their final 30 positions in place (based on this).

The slow start to free agency for the Milk has a range of sources. Most obviously the Raiders year went a bit deeper than last year. Two weeks is two weeks, but in 2021 it had been clear for some time that the existing approach wasn’t going to cut it. The lack of a dedicated list manager after Kelly Egan’s departure likely compounded this, with Joel Carbone only being confirmed recently. The fact that priority number one for this off-season was retaining Joe Tapine pushed new recruits to the backburner.

This was felt in the wider rugby league community as players like Ben Hunt and Cam Munster were dangled everywhere, stalling up clubs who didn’t want to prematurely tie up their cap in other places on the apparently overly optimistic hope that either Hunt, Tapine or Munster would leave home. Now recruitment again has gone into stasis as much of the rugby league world are in England for the World Cup. This will only delay this more as career problems are put on hold in the chase of rugby league immortality. Update: As Josh Hodgson puts so eloquently here, it also doesn’t help that the NRL hasn’t made a salary cap determination for 2023 yet.

That should suit the Raiders. The world cup presents a unique opportunity for a team in Canberra’s place. As we’ve written more times than a doctor has told us to lose weight, the Green Machine doesn’t swim in the deep end of the free agency pool. They chase the unknowns, the not yets, the people that just need someone to believe in them. It’s about working out who might actually be a top line player given the opportunity. The world cup presents a rare chance to see much of the rugby league world against quality opposition. I don’t know who they have their eye on, but chances are they’re going to use the event to work out who’s worth pursuing.

Waiting for the cup to be awarded also gives them a chance to avoid, or adapt, for any potential injuries (*panics, knocks on wood and throws salt over should and paints cat just to make sure you can’t consider him unlucky*). Injury could befall potential free agent targets or god forbid someone else. We’ve been there before: ask Josh Hodgson, or Jordan Rapana, or Ata Hingano. Excuse me while I pour an extra large sadness whisky. Even in the short term they are unlikely to finalise all five available positions in the aftermath of the world cup. They’ll want to leave a space or two to manage an upgrade early next year, or pick up someone who’s looking for a home after falling from grace.

This all means that the Raiders squad may not be finalised for quite some time yet. There will be challenges in that, as so much of the squad won’t be back with the non-internationals until the new year. That in itself will put pressure on combinations, particularly if Canberra are able to address the gaps we’ve previously identified, particularly on the right edge. Any new ideas will have less time for implementation, and we may see another version of the time it took Jamal Fogarty and Jack Wighton to build together.

But that’s a problem for next year. For now we wait to see who is coming to Canberra. Just don’t hold you breath.

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