Canberra Raiders: Milford a Bronco … And that means he must go now

The Canberra Raiders released this statement this evening:

Canberra Raiders fullback Anthony Milford has informed the club he will be honouring the deal he made with the Brisbane Broncos and will depart at the end of the 2014 season.

Milford said the decision to leave the club where he developed his game and made his NRL debut was the toughest of his career so far and thanked everyone involved in the Raiders organisation for the opportunities they have given him and the patience they have shown.

“This was a very tough decision for me and my family and I want to thank everyone at the Raiders for everything they have done for me,” Milford said. “I’ve been with the club since I was awarded a scholarship at the age of 13. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the Raiders and I will never forget the support they’ve given me.

“I’m 100 per cent committed to the Raiders for the rest of the season and I look forward to helping the team play well for the rest of the year.”

Milford will honour the final year of his current deal with the Raiders and remain with the club until the end of the 2014 season.

Whilst I appreciate the sentiment and the comments of Milford towards the Raiders, I am left to ponder what benefit there is to the club in Milford continuing to play for the Raiders in 2014.

Let’s be plain: the Raiders are in disarray at the moment and a large part of that appears to fall to a player group that is either uninterested or just plain bad (I don’t know which). This is after they got the coaching change they wanted.

Now the club’s members and fans are expected to continue to support a player who has been financially rewarded by the club since he was 13 and who is now leaving. To me that, at best, is a questionable position to be in and, at worst, is just plain wrong.

I make no criticism of Milford or his motives BUT to continue to select him in the top side each week and to continue to develop his game before he leaves is something I can not countenance. In what will be a losing season for the Raiders surely the best option is for Milford to play out his contract with the Raiders’ feeder teams and let a young player actually committed to the club play.

Such a move is also in Milford’s best interests given that the feeder team he would likely play for (Brisbane Souths) is located in the place he so desperately wants to be.

I wrote recently about the tenure of the coach and my keenness to see the Raiders improve as a team: the selection of Milford will make a mockery of that imperative as the only club being improved by him being on the park is the Broncos. It is clearly time for Milford to exit and exit now!

2014 NRL Draw: Canberra Raiders again forgotten … and they are not alone!

The NRL announced the draw for the 2104 season (first 20 rounds) yesterday and, in a scene reminiscent of “Groundhog Day”, the Canberra Raiders are again a forgotten team by the NRL and, most particularly, Channel 9. I have, forgive the accountant in me, done a statistical analysis of the winners and losers out of the draw when it comes to coverage of the clubs in a free manner which renders both some surprising and unsurprising results as follows:

Team FTA Games FTA Percentage 2013 Position
Rabbitohs 8 44.4% 2nd
Roosters 10 55.6% 1st
Bulldogs 9 50% 6th
Broncos 13 72.2% 12th
Panthers 3 16.7% 10th
Knights 5 27.8% 7th
Sea Eagles 11 61.1% 4th
Storm 4 22.2% 3rd
Cowboys 6 33.3% 8th
Raiders 3 16.7% 13th
Dragons 6 33.3% 14th
Tigers 11 61.1% 15th
Eels 7 38.9% 16th
Warriors 1 5.56% 11th
Sharks 5 27.8% 5th
Titans 5 27.8% 9th

Let’s get the principal cause of my angst out of the way first: if I did not have Foxtel (which I concede I do) I would not be able to watch the Canberra Raiders play on television (via the host broadcaster Channel 9) until round 10 when they face the Melbourne Storm. In total I would not be able to watch my team play some 15 times because Channel 9 deigns to show my club some 3 times in total through the first 20 rounds of the season. I would like to say that I am surprised by this but as a long time Raiders fan, frankly, I am not. My surprise is even less so this year given the place on which Raiders ended up on the table last season (13th).

Therein lies the principal rub for me out of the draw set by Channel 9 (I should say the NRL here but we all know who actually runs the game): the draw for the Free to Air games for the first 20 rounds of the season does nothing to reward the best performing teams (in some cases) and everything to reward mediocrity (in some cases). Additionally, it does nothing to seek to foster the game in developing markets whilst doing everything to solidify the game in markets the NRL already dominates.

There is a simple comparison here that quite poignantly supports my point: the difference in the schedules of the Brisbane Broncos and the Melbourne Storm. The Broncos, coming off a season where they finished 12th and in a season where they are unlikely to go higher than that despite raiding the stocks of other teams, will be seen on Channel 9 13 times in the first 20 rounds (out of 18 games given byes). Most astonishingly the Broncos will play each of their first 10 games on Friday night in front of the Channel 9 TV audience. I bet their sponsors are very happy right now. Contrast this with the Melbourne Storm, who by the way have appeared in every finals series since 2003 save for the year they were stripped of their points and finished 3rd last year, who will be seen by their fans having free to air television a paltry 4 times in the first 20 rounds and, again astonishingly, only for the first time in Round 10 against the Raiders.

Can anyone explain the sense in Channel 9 crafting a draw that presents a struggling team, which the Broncos are, for fans to watch EVERY week in the first 10 rounds whilst not showing a team that includes names like C Smith, Slater and Cronk which again presents as a serious title contender? That is ignoring that one team is based in a developing market the NRL should be supporting (Melbourne) and the other is based in a static established market (Brisbane).

To add to the scratching of one’s head is this conundrum: How do the West Tigers, most pundit’s pick for the wooden spoon in 2014 and placed 15th last season, land over 60% of their games on free to air television when the only finalist from last season to the rewarded similarly are the Manly Sea Eagles? That is right: the favourite for the wooden spoon for 2014 will be shown on Channel 9 more than the Roosters, Rabbitohs, Storm, Sharks, Bulldogs, Knights and Cowboys. It makes little sense does it, either by an analysis of results nor of the importance of the geographical area in which the Tigers sit to the game.

Is it too simplistic to suggest that Channel 9 have, again, simply picked their favourite teams for television spots and ignored what is best for developing the game? Surely, if they were serious about developing the game in key competitive markets (which Brisbane and Sydney are, frankly not) then games such as the Storm v Knights game slated for Monday night in Round 3 have to be shown on Channel 9 rather than the Tigers v Rabbitohs that has taken precedence.

I am lucky in a sense that I have Foxtel and I will get to watch the only game of each weekend that I watch (the Raiders game) every week. I do wonder though how many fans of the game from clubs such as the Warriors, Sharks, Cowboys and Titans (one town teams in developing markets) might be lost to the game because they can barely see their team play on free to air TV? I get that Channel 9 have paid the GDP of a medium size country for the rights to broadcast the game but at what point does the role that Channel 9 plays in the game become more about the stewardship of the game and not as a profit centre? I am not sure of the answer to this but answer might need to be found sooner rather than later if overall crowd and viewing numbers start to wane.

Another day, another Canberra Raiders player saga: the Milford imbroglio

It has been a while since I wrote about anything to do with rugby league. I am only a fan of the game whilst the Canberra Raiders are playing it and given that they have been out of play since the end of the August there has been little for me to comment on (I have grown weary of the ongoing playing behavior imbroglios that engulf the game and choose to not comment on them).

The news yesterday and today about Anthony Milford and his relationship with the Canberra Raiders has in equal parts infuriate me and disillusioned me. For those who have missed it, it was announced yesterday that Milford has signed a contract to play with the Brisbane Broncos in from 2015. It was then announced that Milford will see out his contract with the Raiders in 2014. Milford has refuted this this morning and stated that he will not be returning on 16 December for pre-season training.

Now let me be clear: I have nothing but sympathy for Milford’s situation. He has an ill father and wants to be close to him and look after him. As a son of a father that I am very close to I understand that completely.

What infuriates me is the fact that his contract for 2015 has already been announced despite him being contracted to another club through 2014. How is it fair to the fans of the Raiders and the other players in the Raiders squad to have the teams most valuable player already in the exit lounge for a season if he actually deigns to honour his contract with the club next year. The situation with player contracts in the NRL is becoming farcical and there needs to be changes made, within the bounds of the competition laws of this country, so that situations like this cease to recur. Fans of the game hate these contractual shenanigans and it is time that the NRL listen to the fans.

My disillusionment this morning stems from I know will happen now that Milford has expressed his vehement position that he will not be returning to the Raiders in 2014. Despite the backlash from Canberra Raider’s fans to the return of Josh Dugan to NRL play some 4 weeks after he was removed from the club due to a phalanx of behavioural issues, I am prepared to bet that the NRL will show its usual lack of steel when it comes to player issues and allow Milford to break his Raiders contract and play for the Broncos in 2014. He is simply too marketable and the Raiders have, as is obvious from their treatment at TV schedule time, simply no power within the construct of the NRL.

During the Super League saga I was lost to the game however I came back when it reformed. The various player behaviour issues over recent years and the treatment of the Canberra Raiders by Channel 9 have had me on the precipice of being lost to the game again. I have to say: if Milford plays in the NRL for any other club other than Raiders I may well be gone for good. I hope that does not happen but I reckon it is odds on that it will.

I repeat that I am sympathetic to Milford’s situation. Equally, he needs to learn the consequences of breaching a contract. The question is whether the NRL will teach him that lesson.

Player Behaviour: Well said David Shillington!

Canberra Raiders Co-captain David Shillington was quoted as follows in the press this week:

“Depending on how the coach handles you or how the club handles you, sometimes you create the devil in players.

”If a player mucks up and you don’t drop him from the team or you don’t have some sort of serious consequences … I think that’s when you create the devil in players.

“It makes them bigger than the club, and I think we saw that at our club this year with a few players.”

I applauded those comments when I read them and, despite Shillington being fined by the Raiders for making the statements, I applaud them again now. I mean is Shillington saying anything that the fans of the game are not thinking every time another player of any code finds themselves in trouble?

I, for one, wish more players were as honest as David Shillington and, indeed, hope all coaches and administrators take heed of the sentiment in the comments.

Pandering to bad conduct IS NOT AND HAS NOT WORKED. Now is the time for a renewed focus on discipline: I hope it happens sooner rather than later!

Canberra Raiders: An Open Letter to Ricky Stuart

Dear Ricky,

Congratulations on your new job with the Canberra Raiders. I am a long time fan of the club, having first having an interest in the Raiders in 1985. Based in Brisbane, it has oft been difficult to travel to Canberra Stadium but, until this year, I have never had any trouble giving my full throated support to the club that I love. I have to say though that this year has pushed me to the limits of my endurance.

I will concede I am not a supporter of your appointment to the head coaching role of the team but now you are here I pledge to you that I will give you my full support. That support though comes with some demands, because I do not think I, or many other Canberra fans, will survive another season like that which was 2013.

I do not require the team to make the finals for it to be considered to be a successful year in 2014 but, Ricky, if you could undertake to do the following I, and my fellow Canberra Raiders fans I am sure, will be happy:

Coach the team to play every game hard and for 80 minutes and drop any player who does not do so.

If a player breaches team rules or is ill disciplined sack him. This includes any infractions related to alcohol. Another “Dugan / Ferguson” fiasco must not be countenanced.

If a player does not wish to play for our club and notes in the media that he wants to move elsewhere sack him. Another situation like that which Anthony Milford has placed the team in must not be countenanced.

Keep the young talent in the under 20s team in Canberra and sign them for the long term.

Still be the coach in 2015.

I don’t think the foregoing is too much to ask Ricky; I am not asking for a premiership or even a winning season, what I am asking for is you to return my sense of pride in following this team that I have supported for 28 years.

If you can not do these things then it is going to be another season of lament for those of us Canberra Raiders fans who are left which can not be a good thing for the club.

Thank you in anticipation.

Stephen

Football Finals Month … Frankly I could not care less!

I have been asked a lot this week who I am following in the finals of the NRL and AFL and whether I was enjoying the finals so far. I will answer here as I have answered each enquiry:

The AFL season finished 3 weeks ago when the Bombers were punished by the AFL and the NRL season finished 2 weeks ago when the Raiders were knocked out so I really don’t care who wins the finals!

It has be claimed to me that that is a narrow minded view. Why is that so? Do people think that having supported a club all season (and in the case of both the Raiders and Bombers over 20 years) that all of sudden it is expected that I will pick another team to follow for the next 4 weeks?

I can not think of a more ridiculous suggestion frankly. To me it is simple: I support a team, it is not in the finals therefore I have no interest in the finals.

To everyone with teams in the finals: good luck to your respective teams and rest assured that I will not be jumping on your team’s bandwagon because to do so would be disrespectful, even if I was interested which I am not.

It is going to be a quiet September for me: a bit of rugby to watch and much expectation for the cricket season to come because the other football seasons are over. Here’s hoping that this time next year I have something to cheer about!