John Bateman believes the strict NRL biosecurity protocols have helped galvanise the Raiders in their quest to better last year’s grand final loss.
Bateman, who will return to Wigan after Canberra’s premiership campaign ends, admitted he had struggled with homesickness but would not consider booking his flight to England before Friday night’s grand final qualifier with Melbourne as he intends to remain in Australia for a while longer.
"I have got one goal and my goal is to play in the grand final so I am not thinking beyond that," Bateman said.
However, the star forward makes no secret about his desire to get home and said he would have found it hard to spend the off-season in Australia as Canberra’s fellow English imports Elliott Whitehead, George Williams, Josh Hodgson and Ryan Sutton have agreed to do because of COVID restrictions.
"Don’t get me wrong, we are privileged to play this game and we love playing it but literally all we do is go home, rugby, go home, rugby. I don’t care who you are, that puts a toll on you," Bateman said.
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"I’m lucky I’m going to get home this year but the other English boys probably aren’t going to get home until another year’s time so that is two years without seeing their families. It has been a massive year but we don’t kick stones, we just get on with it."
Raiders players are unable to visit cafes, pubs or restaurants and can’t play golf or take part in any activities away from training. The team has been forced to travel directly to and from games, including a number of "home" matches at Campbelltown Stadium earlier in the season.
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Bateman said the isolation of being in a team bubble had the benefit of forcing the players to spend more time together.
"It was good last year because we used to spend a few nights together and we have not really been able to do that this year, but when we got dealt the schedule we knew what we were going to have to do," he said.
"We spoke about it and we said the only people who can get us through it is ourselves and I think that is what we have done this year. We have probably spent more time with each other and you look after each other.
"There have been times when I have been missing my family and a few of the boys have come around to mine and there has been a lot of stuff like that. Everyone looks after one another and that is the best thing."
The Raiders have had to overcome the loss of Hodgson in round nine with a ruptured ACL, while Sutton and fellow forwards Corey Horsburgh, Emre Guler also suffered season-ending injuries and prop Iosia Soliola missed 10 weeks with facial fractures.
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However, Bateman insisted the Raiders had never lost sight on their bid to win a premiership and regrouped after the loss of Hodgson.
“That week we just had a little chat and we just spoke about how much it means to us,” he said. “The boys that are here just got on with it and that is how the game is played, you just get on with it.
“The belief is very strong. You need to get through the season and finish where you finish, then we go into the finals now and it is the prelim next week against Melbourne and you know what, it [the grand final] is one week away.
"We have obviously got to get past Melbourne next week and then we are there, and it is anyone’s game once you are there. We found that out last year."