Borthwick and Shaping Uncertainty.


One of the most terrifying and exciting things about the Raiders entry into the NRLW competition next season is the sheer scope of possibility. As the newly announced coach of Canberra’s women’s team, it’s Darrin Borthwick’s job to shape what that can be.

The announcement was exciting in itself. Being the first coach of a new club is a momentous achievement. It immediately makes Borthwick a figure of historical importance in Canberra’s history, and regardless of how much success he has with the team, his name will always be remembered. What an opportunity!

It’s the first piece of real “infrastructure” that has been announced for the Raiders NRLW entry. As of yet the Valkyries that will take the field are mostly theoretical. We know a move has been made to attract Shaylee Bent, but only because Brent Read told us that might be part of an admittedly unlikely package deal with David Fifita. A quality backrower is as good place to start as any I guess.

But apart from those rumours, we’ve as yet not got a good idea what the team looks like – and even then, given the paucity of coverage of women’s sports it will take a real devotee of regional footy competitions around Australia to know what to make of it. Canberra will get done players that have played some NRLW experience, but they’ll have as many that we won’t have seen on TV before. This means the Borthwick appointment take on such a substantial level of importance. He has the opportunity to be the foundation stone on which the team is built.

It is pleasing that the Milk have chosen someone with experience in the competition, as opposed to a bigger name or more familiar face. Borthwick has been around the league about as much as you can without already being a head coach. He’s been an assistant in the NRLW at the Warriors, Roosters and most recently with the grand final losing Eels. It’s assurance that the club has done their homework and is taking this challenge of building a new team seriously. Don Furner revealed the club had consulted widely, and taken on board a obvious but easily ignored lesson of understanding the difference between the women’s and the men’s game. Watching the women’s game reveals a myriad of ways in which the sport is different, but that extends far beyond the on-field product. Someone that understands what the structure and culture of the game is an advantage rather than just flying blind.

The appointment of Borthwick also allows the Milk to leverage Borthwick’s relationships with players around the league to attract talent. As he told Alice Newton of

I’ve had girls reach out already and that’s a good positive for this club, [that] girls want to come down [from Sydney and Queensland]. I’ve also had a few conversations with some girls who have had to leave the area to go and play in the NRLW

Borthwick to Alice Newton here

As Don Furner noted in his press conference last week, more than half the club will be recruited in initially, so this becomes immediately critical about the initial competitiveness of the squad. Borthwick and the club have both acknowledged the importance of taking advantage of the talent available across the region (in league, but also in related sports like union and touch footy). This, and building the pathways between regional and sub-professional competitions and the top league will be critical to the sustained success of this new side. Again, it’s obvious, but it’s pleasing the club has made it clear they’ve got that at the forefront of their minds.

In addition to this Borthwick reveals a sound mindset about what is achievable in the Valkyries’ first season. While both Parramatta and Newcastle made a splash, the move to ten teams will temporarily spread the available talent. Going too hard on big names at the expense of building a playing list that can build and evolve over time can be a short cut to failure. Experience is important to set standards at the club, but it’s pleasing to see the organisation thinking more holistically about the potential of the Valkyries.

The Raiders, and Borthwick are realistic about what he’s trying to build in Canberra. This isn’t about making a splash, but rather building something approximating sustainable success over time.

We want to build a good roster and a good culture from there. We’re under no illusions it’s going to be tough. It’s going to take a lot of work to build the club up but we’re going to give it a good crack

Borthwick to Alice Newton here

So that means getting the right mix of experience and youth, building local competition around the NRLW team, and making sure the focus isn’t on immediate success but putting a foundation in place that will support the club for years to come. We won’t know what that looks like for a little while yet, but the Raiders and Borthwick are facing that uncertainty with clear plans and open eyes. And that’s pretty exciting.

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