The Raiders NRLW has effectively only existed for seven months, yet in their first season, they have exceeded the expectations of most observers.
Canberra had five wins from nine games, including a memorable 24-14 victory over the high-flying Roosters in July, to finish just outside the top four in their debut season.
Much of the success can be attributed to the recruitment of key players, a coach with experience coaching in the NRLW, and the culture created within the Raiders organisation.
Coach Darrin Borthwick believes it has made the Raiders a destination club where players are attracted to come and play.
“This organisation is the best I’ve dealt with in my time in coaching,” says Borthwick.
“There has been great buy-in from the board. They are very forward-thinking. The support from people like Don Furner, Jason Mathie and Ricky [Stuart] has been exceptional.”
It would appear as though this is a two-way street.
During his speech at the Raiders’ presentation night, Ricky Stuart referred to the positive influence the women’s team has had on the club.
Borthwick believes the immediate acceptance has made his job far easier than it might have been.
“A lot of girls at other clubs don’t have the same interaction with the NRL team as we have at the Raiders. It has a country feel where everybody is comfortable around each other.”
With the NRLW season over for the Raiders, the focus has quickly turned to preparations for 2024.
Twelve players are locked away for next season, including Simaima Taufa, Zahara Temara, Ash Quinlan, Apii Nicholls and Sophie Holyman.
On Thursday (28 September), Taufa was named NRLW Captain of the Year and cited culture when she spoke of the honour.
“It’s a privilege to be able to lead such a great group of individuals that form our team and represent such a special club,” Taufa said.
Crowd favourite and Wallaroo Grace Kemp has a player option in her favour for 2024, which allows her to walk away to rejoin rugby union.
But Borthwick said there are strong indications that she will stay with the Raiders.
“We’ve done a good job in educating Grace and provided her with a good experience. I’m hopeful she will stay. She’s got a big future in rugby league, and she will only get better.”
Borthwick is keen to see as many players as possible, especially those coming across from rugby union, playing in the state-based competitions in preparation for next season’s NRLW competition.
He has also sounded a note of caution around plans to expand the competition by another two teams next season.
“We need to get our pathways right for the next generation of players coming through, especially building on our key positions before we expand the league.”
While this season was incredibly positive for the Raiders NRLW side, plenty of lessons have been learned.
One area that needs to be addressed is the scheduling. There is an obvious desire from the club’s NRL supporter base for more double headers involving the men’s team at Canberra Stadium, and that can only help the women’s game grow in the ACT.