Much has been made of the reshaping of the Canberra Raiders previously monster pack this offseason. The Raiders have put a finger to the wind, and decided to get smaller. At the same, they’ve extended the stay of enormous rookie prop Emre Guler. Are these two things compatible?
The decision to let two thirds of la meute d’hippopotames* depart, and the destruction of the Raiders defence by faster forward packs, forced a shift. The Green Machine have responded by focusing their offseason regime on getting faster, and getting smaller. As Siliva Havili put it to David Polkinghorne of The Canberra Times
“There’s a new tactic we’re going in with next year, just with the way we play in the middle, a bit more mobile, a bit faster middles in there. That’s what we’re working on.”
A wise tactic given what transpired in 2018. As we said in Part III of our season review, the defensive frailties of the Raiders were consistent, and it usually started with a middle that couldn’t keep up.
Into this dramatic shift walks Canberra’s 2018 Rookie of the Year. Guler demonstrated in 2018 that he is very much capable of success in the top grade, and despite only three games showed he has a big part in the Raiders future.
Big is an important word though. Guler is a large human. He’s six foot two in the old money, and the NRL.com conservatively puts his weight at 110kg. When he played first grade he didn’t play big minutes. He averaged just 27.7 minutes a game, less than both Paulo (39.6) Boyd (35.0) (though it’s likely that was due to Coach Stuart’s desire to ease him into the top grade rather than seek full rotations out of him).
Regardless, Guler is hardly the 80 minute, mobile minaturette. He’s big and he doesn’t play big minutes. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be part of the shift to pace.
Guler is hardly a fascimile of Boyd and Paulo. At least 10 kilograms lighter (depending on whether Shannon is on the burgers or not), his excellent footwork close to the line, combined with his uncanny ability to get to his belly in the tackle, are reminiscent of long-lost Raider Paul Vaughan. His workrate in defence (0.62 tackles per minute) was much more than Paulo (0.42) or Boyd (0.57), and in line with defensive stalwart Luke Bateman (0.62).
In a sense the hybrid of size and mobility is a useful hedge for the Raiders going forward. It’s not hard to see Guler fitting in to a light second unit pack and the chief line bender, or part of a duo of big boppers with Josh Papalii. The decision to ‘go small’ may only be a temporary fad, and by keeping Guler in the fold the Raiders not only have locked in important talent, but also greater flexibility in playing styles than the presence of Boyd and Paulo provided, or the newly arrived Ryan Sutton.
Locking Guler in for the longer term is smart work by the Raiders. He provides flexibility in the long term, allowing Canberra to have a foot in both the ‘mobile’ and ‘bruising’ pack approaches. But his presence will pay dividends in 2019 as well.
*google translate informs me la meute d’hippopotames means the pack of hippos in French. I dunno man, I don’t speak French, i’m just feeling a little fancy today.
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