When John Bateman arrived in Canberra for the pre-season in the lead up to the 2019 competition he appeared incredibly grateful to be given an opportunity to show his wares in the NRL.
He spoke of his tough upbringing in Northern England and how rugby league had offered him a better life. He also made it clear it was hard being away from his daughter, Millie, and his family, who were back in England.
Bateman went on to become one of the best players in the NRL in his first year with the Green Machine. He was a key member of a side that went so close to winning the 2019 premiership.
As proof of his impact, he was named NRL Second Rower of the Year. Heady times indeed, and it seemed that a long career with the Raiders beckoned.
The warning signs that the journey ahead would not be as smooth as the Raiders would have hoped came in the week leading up to the grand final.
As media descended on Canberra to speak with the players prior to the decider, Bateman told NRL.com that he would have to weigh up his options if the Raiders couldn’t improve on his current deal.
He backtracked by saying he wanted to stay in Canberra, but in the minds of many Raiders supporters, the damage had been done and the warning signs were ominous.
Despite being contracted until the end of season 2021, there was buzz earlier this year that he was looking to walk out on the Raiders.
As speculation mounted, so did Bateman’s protestations that he wasn’t going anywhere.
The Raiders, for their part, upped their offer. But again, the speculation had become a distraction.
Then the Raiders allowed him to see what other offers were available from clubs in both the NRL and the English Super League. Sick and tired of the constant destabilising chatter, Raiders management gave him a deadline and forced the issue.
Which is how we got to where we are now: Bateman and the Raiders have announced that he will be leaving the club at the end of the season.
His destination remains unclear. It could be the Bulldogs, the Dragons, or he could return to the Wigan Warriors. For the Raiders and their supporters, this is an unceremonious end to the saga.
So how did it get to this point?
The role of player managers and their ability to hijack a season has to be addressed urgently by the NRL. Bateman’s epic is a perfect example of the process at its worst.
How is it that a player-manager has become as crucial to a club’s success as the player himself? It’s obvious that Bateman wouldn’t have made the comment that he did in the lead up to the Grand Final without external advice.
Ricky Stuart was absolutely justified in his attack on Bateman’s manager, Isaac Moses, and the role he’s played. It’s not the first time the Raiders have been on the receiving end of player-managers doing their best to destabilise the club.
Hopefully, if the NRL acts to stop protracted negotiations mid-season, it will be the last time we see it.