Through six lockdowns and draft heartbreak Cody Raak has persevered, determined to prove one AFL club in particular wrong come November. Leading into the 2021 AFL Draft in November, The Inner Sanctum is delivering power rankings, phantom drafts and interviews with the best prospects around the country. Keep up to date with the next superstars of the competition at our AFL Off-Season Hub.
In 2020, a lack of representative football and the cancellation of the NAB League saw the lowest-ever total of players picked in an AFL Draft.
Cody Raak had come off a superb under-age season with the Western Jets, and was training with the likes of Marcus Bontempelli at Whitten Oval in the pre-season as he geared up for his draft year.
The Caroline Springs boy was a member of the Western Bulldogs Next Generation Academy. It afforded him the opportunity to learn from the best in an elite environment, and gave the Dogs first dibs on Raak at the upcoming national draft.
“I was training in the academy with boys like Ewan MacPherson, Jamarra [Ugle-Hagan] and one or two others,” Raak told The Inner Sanctum.
“It helped a lot – learning from the coaches went a long way. I was lucky enough to spend time with the Dogs in the pre-season and from there everything changed and a lot of stuff clicked for me.”
It was all coming together for Raak, who had solidified his place as an intercepting defender and was in line to represent Vic Metro at the U19s National Championships.
He was playing his best football at the right time, turning heads of recruiters with an impressive burst of pace, elite foot skills and the capacity to play on talls or smalls at 192 centimetres.
When 2020’s lockdowns hit, Raak went from training with the Western Bulldogs to just one hour of exercise per day.
Draft disappointment fuels fire
Like many Victorian prospects with the 2020 AFL Draft approaching, it became clear there wouldn’t be an opportunity to play football again, despite draftees in other states showing their talents across full competitions.
It all came to a head when Dogs recruiters told Raak days prior to the draft that he wouldn’t be selected by the club whose NGA he had spent years in.
“I was pretty gutted and upset,” he admitted.
“The Bulldogs came to my house a few days beforehand saying they weren’t going to take me, which I respected.
“After the draft, I had a chat with one of their recruiters and just said ‘I’m really, really determined to prove you wrong’.
“That’s how I attacked this pre-season, I wanted to show them that they should’ve picked me.
“I just trained that whole pre-season like I was pretty pissed off and whenever I thought things were getting tough and I didn’t want to do a session I just went back to that chat.”
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Raak’s start to 2021 showed the improvement he had made since 2020’s lockdowns. In Round 1 of the NAB League, the defender collected 31 disposals to go with 11 rebound 50s as he repelled everything Calder threw the Jets’ way.
More importantly, he showed his value as a leader of the backline.
Coming back to the Jets as a top-ager, his untapped leadership potential was an aspect that coaches were looking for him to add to the group, knowing that he possessed elite traits and rare experiences at various levels of football.
He took the opportunity with both hands.
“I like to lead through my actions and talking from the backline – I know I’m very lucky with what I’ve done from the VFL and Bulldogs, a lot of boys would kill to have that [experience],” Raak reflected.
“The stuff I learned, they’re not really going to learn, so if I can help out my mates and make them five or 10 per cent better from leadership, I think that’ll go a long way.”
His Round 3 game against the Oakleigh Chargers solidified his arrival as a dominant player beyond his age group. Nick Daicos would steal the headlines with 40 disposals and two goals, but Raak had 33 touches as he intercepted and got the ball moving across half-back.
The 19-year-old earned a call-up to the Footscray’s VFL side, contributing in three-straight wins to hold his spot for the top-of-the-table Dogs.
He was immediately comfortable taking assignments on dangerous forwards, regularly taking front spot and reading the play to intercept and get the ball moving forward with his penetrating kick.
It was the taste of professional football Cody Raak needed after lockdowns and AFL Draft heartbreak encompassed the previous 12 months of his football.
“I thought I was prepared [for VFL football], but it was good to realise how good they all are. Obviously the pace and going against men, it just made me want to work harder,” he said.
“I know that to play AFL football, which I want to do, I’ve got to improve and train hard. Seeing them train and play, I know that’s what I need to do and how I need to attack training.”
Raak kept impressing with performances for Vic Metro, and was selected in the team for the National Championships for the second year running.
But once again, lockdown has played havoc with Raak’s journey. Its sixth iteration has ended his hopes of pulling on the Big V for the second consecutive year, as well as missing out on a VFL finals campaign with Footscray and even pulling on the Caroline Springs guernsey once more.
“There have been a lot of challenges with lockdowns, but I like to think I’m making the most of them,” he told The Inner Sanctum.
“I’m looking at it as a chance to get my body 100 per cent right while we’re not playing, and becoming better than others in areas that I’m working on.
“My running and my strength in particular, I’m smashing that so I’m confident I’m getting better instead of doing nothing in lockdown.”
Opportunities have passed at the 2020 AFL Draft and this year’s mid-season draft, but Cody Raak has persevered on his mission to prove clubs wrong come November.
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