The Best Pathway


Amongst the depressing but inevitable news about David Fifita’s decision to stay in South Queensland was the equally saddening news that Jillaroo backrower Shaylee Bent would also not be joining the Raiders.

A deal with Bent had been as good as ‘done’ according to David Riccio in November last year. When he said that we were cautious (because you know, the tele) but excited at the prospect. It followed on from a dance being done with Millie Boyle, before Newcastle’s bags of cash and delightful beaches stole her and Adam Elliott away. It seems Bent made a decision not to come to Canberra in conjunction with David Fifita, but it’s also hard not to think that the ineptitude of the NRL played a role. If there was an existing collective agreement in November last year then Bent may have signed then. Alas like my dude Seneca said, fate rules the affairs of mankind with no recognizable order except screwing the Canberra Raiders.

Missing out on both Boyle and Bent means Canberra are likely to start their inaugural NRLW season without the big name that could help implement a culture and expectation of professionalism in the young squad. This would normally be a viable, and probably good, strategy for a new team. A short cut to standard setting. Witness how Wayne Bennett has built the Dolphins squad with a host of experienced players to help establish the right kind of culture in the new club (a tactic that seems to have only backfired when it comes to Anthony Milford). This strategy is now seemingly blocked off for the Milk and they’ll have to search for new ways to build a cohesive and competitive squad.

This puts greater pressure on ‘rookie’ NRLW coach Darren Borthwick. By the time the start of the season rolls around he may be one of the people with the most experience with the standards and requirements needed to succeed at this level. That’s not a bad thing but if the Raiders aren’t able to get more established talent it is undoubtedly putting a lot on the new coach.

It also makes last week’s announcement of an ongoing partnership with the Mounties NSW Women’s Premiership team all the more important. In the absence of the ‘short-cut’ of bringing in established talent to build the skill and culture of the side this is the next best thing.

Firstly it offers immediate development. The NSW Women’s Premiership is probably the closest thing that most of the emerging Raiders squad will have engaged with before they play their first NRLW games. The jump from the Canberra region competitions to NRLW seems as broad as Scrivener Dam and playing games in the NSW premiership could be an important bridge to help facilitate that crossing, something Don Furner acknowledged (minus the silly metaphor). Alongside things like the Katrina Fanning Shield academy it also offers a more long term focus, providing a clear pathway from juniors right through to the top line of the game for talent in the Canberra region. This infrastructure is critical, as Coach Borthwick noted:

We’re in a wonderful position here in Canberra where players can see a clear pathway to the NRLW from our academy programs, through our Tarsha Gale Cup team and the Katrina Fanning Shield, but this partnership allows us to really see the best players competing against each other before the NRLW season

Darren Borthwick

Thirdly it may offer access to existing talent that may be able to be attracted into the Raiders’ system. As Furner noted, several Canberra-based players are already part of the Mounties squad. They’re already travelling to and from Sydney for games and training, and if talented enough, would form an obvious part of a Raiders NRLW team. In addition, there are non-Canberra based NRLW players that would could potentially be swayed to join the Milk if they’re exposed to the wonders of Canberra, and the Raiders, through their team-mates.

It’s the best of a difficult situation. Bringing in high-level established talent would have been a easier way to build a team. While this approach will potentially bring less immediate benefits it’s also an important part of building a more sustainable success over the longer term. In a perfect world both parts exist, but in the absence of star power this is a good pathway for the Milk.

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