George Williams signature with the Raiders may have been laid to paper months ago, but today it has finally been made official. In doing so, it heralds a confidence the Raiders‘ hierarchy have in their ability to continue to develop not just the young Williams, but Jack Wighton also.
As we said earlier in the year, the risk of taking on George Williams is significant. He plays predominantly on the left side, is a bustling ball-runner who can ballplay a bit and has a handy short kicking game. It’s all a bit familiar.
Sidebar: we don’t watch super league, so all of our speculation is based on highlights and the assessments of people we trust.
The fit between him and Jack Wighton isn’t immediately clear. While earlier in the year we were worried bringing him to Canberra would replace Jack, or perhaps stifle his development. While the latter may remain a concern, the play of Wighton over the last few months should assuage most anxiety. Jack should wear the number six for the rest of his Raiders career. As we’ve noted recently, he’s the most important part of the Green Machine red zone attack, and with Josh Hodgson (and maybe John Bateman), the most important Raider. It’s clear now that Williams joins the side as an addition to Wighton, rather than a potential substitution.
Wighton has shown great comfort being the focal point of the Raiders. He and Hodgson have a good rapport, and Wighton touches the ball more than anyone outside of the dummy-half. Jack has seemed happy playing at first receiver and has begun to pop on the right more, though he still does his best work operating in the left third of the attack.
This is obviously Williams’ favourite spot too, so someone is going to have to spread their wings. While I’m loathe to weaken a strength just to accomodate a new player, Wighton’s improvement has been so rapid and so vast that its not crazy to think it possible for him to spend more time on the right edge in attack.
A halves pairing of Wighton and Williams would have its advantages. Their strong ball-running might create a very direct attack, with elite ball runners from fullback to half. Jack’s passing and creativity is of such quality going to the left that it should remain a strength of the side. Both Williams and Wighton have good short kicking games, and between Hodgson and Wighton, there’s not much requirement for Williams to kick much.
But this isn’t a risk free proposition. Splitting them doesn’t remove the risk of duplication – the same sorts of ideas operating on both sides of the ruck. This halves pairing will need to be able to offer more than the same sweep and block plays that most clubs offer. Using runners on the inside, either from a direct run by the ball-player or by an outside back screaming in on an angle needs to be a part of this attack to keep it from going stale. A willingness to involve the likes of Bateman, Whitehead, Cotric and Leilua with early ball will be critical to diversity.
Organisation is another concern that may be raised, but as we have raised before and since, this halves in this team as secondary to the hooker in that regard. This shouldn’t be the concern that it would be for other sides.
There is also a risk of inconsistency. Wighton is new to the gig, and Williams is young. There will be days like Wighton had against the Eels that yo-yo with impunity. Patience isn’t always Cowch Stuart’s best trait, but he’ll need to display it. In all likelihood Sam Williams will remain with the side, and will provide the stable solution should things go awry in early 2020.
As we said earlier in the year, the real loser here is Aidan Sezer. It feels like his cap number means that it’s curtains for his career in Canberra. We’ll say more when the call is made official, but it’s deeply saddening for us he never made the impact we hoped he could. It also seems likely that Jordan Rapana may also be collateral damage in this signing.
It’s a brave new world out there. Canberra have already taken a punt on Englishmen to make the switch to the NRL and it paid off. They’ve bet on Wighton at six, and been shown to be astute judges. Now they’ve taken their biggest risk – a young half and an Englishman to boot. It seems like it could work. Let’s hope it does.