Most sides in the National Rugby League returned for their pre-season recently. While some are still waiting for some Latrell Mitchell sized pieces to land, most are only fiddling around the edges of their roster. The Raiders are not among these, and still have major questions to address. It’s a hard puzzle to put together.
The first bit of the puzzle is the right centre position. The rumoured efforts to sign Curtis Scott (on a proposed four year deal) would have several impacts.
Scott’s arrival on a four year deal would certainly end BJ Leilua’s time in Canberra – and the mere fact that an overture was made suggests it may already be at an end behind closed doors. It seems unlikely to me that Scott would leave Melbourne to ride the pine in Canberra. And the length of the deal suggests the Raiders have offered him the right centre spot in the long term.
If adding Scott does mean the departure of Leilua then this move is for the future rather than 2020. Leilua’s edge defence, his Papalii-like willingness to take the hard runs, and his devastating ability to create opportunities where they frankly don’t exist make him one of the elite centres in the completion. Scott is an excellent talent, but not the fully formed product Leilua is.
It’s been unstated in this discussion, but the other impact of the overture to Scott is the admission that Nic Cotric might not be a long term centre. Peter Mulholland said as much last year, but I must admit I am surprised. Cotric’s ball play isn’t of the quality needed by a good centre, but given his potential it’s surprising to me that the Raiders are comfortable seeing him play out his career on the wing.
Partly that speaks to the importance of wingers. As we said recently, the game has changed for wingers. They’ve become part Ferrari part tank, able to shift between engine-room, yardage work to contorting their bodies to score amazing tries. But it also speaks to a feeling that Cotric looked much less effective at right centre than many of us (including me) thought he would be.
I’ve seen some suggest that BJ and Scott could play together. The only way I can see this working is if Scott is playing as a winger (presumably at the expense of Bailey Simonsson). Some have said Leilua could play as a bench forward, which certainly works when the Raiders have the ball, but I would be suspect he could handle the defensive load playing in the middle takes. There’s a big difference between monstering outside backs and halves 15 times a game than tackling middle forwards 30 times.
But that’s not the only change the Raiders seem to be waiting on. The obituaries to Aidan Sezer have been written time and time again. We wrote one in May, sadly expecting his departure to be only moments away. It’s now November, we’ve never pressed go on it. In between there’s been a good run of form and a grand final appearance and we’re still waiting to see what is going on.
Aidan has been rumoured to be going to Huddersfield for so long that I just assume it’s a done deal. Space needs to be found for George a Williams, who similar to Scott, is hardly moving himself to a strange new town just to sit and watch. Ata Hingano and Sam Williams have been retained in the broader squad for 2020, which seems to suggest there’s only room for one of Aidan and George.
In my own private understanding of the Raiders cap I’d always assumed George and Aidan were pretty much a straight swap cap wise (at least in terms of their salaries – I doubt that factors in his transfer fee). If there was a difference in their cap hold you’d assume it would be chewed up servicing John Bateman and Jack Wighton’s requested bags of money. This of course is just conjecture; I have as much knowledge of the cap situation as you do of my plans for lunch today.
Regardless, it’s surprising that this late into pre-season we still don’t know if Sezer is coming or going.
The final part of this story is that John Bateman and Jack Wighton haven’t finalised their extensions. In fact, after a flurry of discussion about their extensions around the grand final this has gone decidedly quiet.
Rather than find that worrying, it suggests to me that their extensions are linked to the pieces of this BJ/Scott/Sezer puzzle being put together. Once the Raiders are clear about their 2020 wage costs, it allows them to find a whatever is left over to find extra money. Thanks to the haphazard and clumsy handling of their extension requests, both Wighton and Bateman had to come out and proclaim their loyalty to the Green Machine. Combine that with the fact that the available cap space outside of Canberra is has been eaten up, and I think we’ll see both sign extensions shortly.
But not until we’ve sorted out the rest of the puzzle.