Meet Blake’s Team, The Other 16

BY ROB

This following rant was triggered by a sports update on ABC24, in which a presenter said that the Raiders were awaiting to hear if Austin (with no mention of Josh Hodgson) could play or not. It is unclear if the author will calm down in time for tomorrow’s semi-final. 

The Sydney rugby league media has historically had little interest in the Canberra Raiders. While other sections of the rugby league landscape are indifferent, tolerant, sometimes even supportive, the Sydney TV media seems to go out of its way to not talk about the Green Machine.

austin-and-friends

In 2016, however, talk about them they must. With the Raiders finishing 2nd on the ladder at season’s end, the Sydney TV Media simply had no choice.

So what do you do when you have to discuss a successful team that you loathe purely for geographical reasons? You talk about the most prominent Sydney export the team has – Blake Austin.

Blake Austin spent two years with the Penrith Panthers, popping in and out of first grade, before moving to the Tigers in 2014. He was there for just one year – it was enough for Austin to land on the radar of Ricky Stuart who was undertaking the task of rebuilding the Raiders.

2015 became his breakout year. As a Raider, especially during the first half of the season, he terrorised opposition defences with his stepping and ability to exploit holes in lax defensive lines. Austin was on fire, and pretty quickly his name started appearing in conversations involving rep footy.

2016 has been somewhat quieter for him, due to injury and a new format with halfback Aidan Sezer, but there is no doubting he’s one of the Raiders key recruitments of the last three years. And I love him for it.

But he is neither the only, nor the best.

Josh Hodgson is easily the best signing the Raiders have made since the inception of the modern NRL. He is a halfback in a hookers jersey. When Cam Smith retires Hodgson will simply be the best rake in the game. Fans from other teams would rail against this, rabidly claiming that X, Y or Z is better.

They’re not.

Deal with it.

Three years ago Jordan Rapana was a player who had missed a vital period of development by taking time out to pursue missionary work. He is now, occasional brain snap aside, one of the most entertaining wingers in the game. At the beginning of his Raiders career we dubbed him the Little Engine That Could, due to his immense tenacity in the game, skull fractures and all.

His partner in the limelight, Joey Leilua, was on the highway to mediocrity. Having started out with the tri-colours, he had since made his way to the foundering Knights, where his fitness quickly sank along with the wider fortunes of the Novocastrians. In Canberra however he shook off the burgers and the bad attitude, and is now duly reaping the benefits of being one of the best attacking centres in the game.

Sia Soliola had every right to return to Australia and quietly play out his days as a good journeyman forward. His experience, calmness and leadership over the last two seasons has proven invaluable for the Green Machine as they forge their new identity.

Couple the achievements of these guys along with the likes of home grown talent such as Wighton, Lee, Croker, Vaughan and Boyd and it quickly becomes clear the Raiders are not a one man team (if they are, then Hodgson is that man).

Austin is indeed an important part of the Green Machine, but I can guarantee you that any proper Raiders fan with a real interest in the teams’ fortunes was way more concerned with the status of Hodgson’s ankle.

It’s frustrating with fans, and offensive to the other Raiders players when people show they haven’t paid attention to the evolution of the Canberra Raiders, and just rehash the same old boring Austinisms (this is now a word) over and over.

I do acknowledge that the wider NRL community do discuss, and respect the greater Raiders squad, especially in print/online.

It’d be really ace if the Sydney TV Media could do the same.

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