Throughout summer a rumour has persisted on social media that Dylan Edwards might be making his way to the Canberra Raiders. It’s not yet at the level where actual journalists feel compelled to write about it, but people I respect have whispered about it so often I feel I must address it.
The story goes like this. Edwards was the incumbent fullback at Penrith until his injury last year. After Dallin Watene-Zelezniak’s impressive performance in the position for both the Panthers and New Zealand, Edwards is now surplus goods. Gus Gould, the greatest talent spotter in living history (award pending) knows that Watene-Zelezniak is the real deal, and Edwards is the injury risk, so he’s ready to move the latter to free up precious cap space to keep together the house that Ivan built (the first time).
And Canberra might be the people that can take advantage of that.
It’s not the first time this summer a fullback has been rumoured to be on his way down the Hume. Matt Dufty, a champion case of the “Raiders Raise” was a certainty to be in Canberra until he wasn’t. Likewise, other key position players like Mitchell Moses and Shaun Johnson were ‘locked in’ in for Canberra. I await their arrival.
It’s easy to see why Raiders fans would be hopeful. Edwards is clearly a talented footballer. In his most sustained period in first grade in 2017, he averaged 181 metres a game, combining pace and power in a devastating running game, and one of the best kick returns around. In just 8 appearances in 2018 he racked up 45 tackle breaks – an average of 5.6 a game – broadly in line with Raiders young gun Nic Cotric.
For the Raiders, Edwards would also allow Wighton to move to the halves without the Raiders losing much from the back (albeit with a slightly different emphasis – Wighton has more creative ability than Edwards). Canberra would retain its elite yardage work from the back three, while strengthening its edge defence and formalising Wighton’s already ‘acting’ position at six.
There are many an obstacles to Edwards coming to Canberra. He clearly doesn’t want to leave Penrith. Just before the Christmas break he was relishing the opportunity to fight for his preferred position at the back, and as Steve Zemek of News.com.au reported, had the inside running for the spot. As little as 12 months ago he was not just the future of the Panthers at the back, but being talked about as a potential option for State of Origin (although that waiting list seems long).
Edwards is also contracted at Penrith until the end of 2020, and while NRL contracts appear to be more of a guideline than anything, it’s a significant obstacle. Him even being made available would be noteworthy in itself, and a player of his potential would likely draw interest from multiple clubs.
And that is another challenge – Canberra’s cap position. As we’ve stated many times in these pages, recruitment guru Peter Mulholland said back in July that the Green Machine were at the cap limit. Since then we’ve gone on to sign no one (beyond the fringes of the first grade squad). It’s unlikely that the $175,000 in guilt money for Jordan Rapana’s international injury would be enough to attract Edwards to Canberra, unless the Panthers are making up the difference. Given that the whole idea here is that Gus is trying to reduce his own cap dramas this then seems unlikely. When other clubs are likely knocking on the door, it seems downright dream worthy.
Even if all these likely steps come up Milhouse, signing him would be a risk to Canberra’s ability to bring back Jordan Rapana, who has officially entered the “I’m starting to worry a bit” area of contract negotiation. Edwards is a very good footballer with tonnes of potential, but Rapana is all that is good and holy in this world, and if you think that Canberra would be fine without him, then maybe you don’t watch enough Raiders.
Edwards would undoubtedly be a huge get for the Raiders. But he would be a great acquisition for anyone that could get their hands on him. If Canberra does manage to bring him in this would be impressive work from Mulholland and Stuart.
Call me a wet blanket but I still find it hard to believe this is likely, and there are several steps before he could end up at the Raiders. But if he did, and Canberra could still find the money to extend Jordan Rapana, it would be a massive boon for the club and place them to be very competitive in 2019.
More likely though, and as we’ve stated here before, the Raiders will enter round one using the players currently on the roster. That’s just fine in my view.
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