Finding a stable halves pairing has been a challenge for the Canberra Raiders since Ricky Stuart left in the second half of the 1990s. Even in relatively long-term partnerships, like Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin just shared, the union almost always feels pencilled in. It seems the new partnership of Sezer and Wighton might similarly haunted by the ghost of Sticky and Lozza.
Two rumours came to the fore this week suggesting the Canberra Raiders has interest in halves outside their squad. First the Daily Telegraph reported they had expressed interest in Cronulla halfback Chad Townsend. Then League Express reported the Raiders were also trying to acquire English representative half George Williams.
Neither of the scenarios reported is likely to come to pass. The Raiders have no cap space (I feel like a broken record saying this) to pay Cronulla’s offcuts. The Green Machine have also already indicated that they can’t afford the transfer fee for Williams (though that may be a negotiating tactic).
If we can trust that this speculation is true (I’ve seen no rebuke from Canberra) it’s a worrying sign. It reflects a muddled mind-set from the Canberra hierarchy and a lack of clarity about the long term plan.
I think it’s fair to say there’s little between Sezer and Townsend (or Sam Williams for that matter). Townsend is older than Sezer, but feels less experienced. Bringing him in this late in the summer would render the offseason spent working on connections between Sezer and Wighton moot, not to mention undermine the budding bromance between Tapine and Sezer. Aidan Sezer has another year on his contract, which would mean dead money for a team with no space. At best Townsend would do little to change to Raiders halves’ performance.
George Williams is apparently a more traditional six, which means he would play outside Sezer. That obviously would mean Wighton would move back to one. This wouldn’t occur until 2020, which would make the move to five-eighth this year a caretaker move. Asking a young talent to try to learn a (difficult) new position for a single year, only to shift him back to fullback regardless of performance is a waste of his, and the sides, time. Is Wighton the long-term six? One would hope the move was made with that in mind. The Raiders shouldn’t be undermining it before he’s played a proper game there.
Sidebar: I was really happy how Jack was used in his first outing at six. We said earlier in the year that success will flow if Jack’s job description is kept simple. Give him an edge, let him make the pass/run choice he has proven so effective at over recent years. Let most of the offence flow through Josh Hodgson, particularly early in the season. Don’t try on his kicking game. This was exactly the approach the Raiders took in the second trial match. Let’s hope it continues.
It could also be interpreted as a lack of confidence by Stuart in his ability to turn these players into top flight footballers. Sticky has had his problems with halves in the past (See: Kimmorley, Barrett, Cornish, Green etc etc). Perhaps he recognises that he doesn’t have the ability to coach talent into performance. It’s a criticism that has been levelled in the past (in these pages too) and fairly. Stuart has not really developed a half, and now in possession of a relatively young pair that unequivocally has talent, is he again searching for someone fully formed instead?
The major issue here is the mis-identification of need. The success of the Canberra Raiders will not come from improving Aidan Sezer to Chad Townsend. I. They actually don’t need one. They need Josh Hodgson to play at his peak; they need Jack Wighton to succeed at six. They need the new forward pack to show that mobile doesn’t mean they are weak. They need Joe Tapine to give halves around the league insomnia for fear of having to tackle him . They need line speed. Putting 2019 on the backs of how Sezer and Wighton alone is a mis-attribution of blame (or credit). It won’t be helped by spending what little money you have to add to the collection of halves.
To be honest this is more thought than I intended to give this. Rumours and recruitment is normally the sphere of the deep offseason, not the breaking light of late February. The games start soon, and the Raiders should be ready to roll. What the Raiders need to do is embrace the 25 men they have now, if only for 2019, or hell, a period of that. This team is good enough to make the finals, given support, structure and time. The ongoing search for Sticky and Lozza must end.