After a week with idiots like me (here and here) speculating that their overture to Curtis Scott means BJ Leilua is out the door, the Canberra Raiders have laid down the truth: we can fit them both under the cap.
This is quite the statement. It suggests that the money for Scott is coming from Jordan Rapana’s former pay-packet rather than from BJ departure. It also means that the Raiders have given up on Nic Cotric as a right centre for the foreseeable future. But more importantly it shows that the Raiders are future-proofing their roster while maintaining flexibility to be competitive in 2020. It’s impressive if true.
But first we have to work out how the Raiders will fit Leilua and Scott in the same side.
It seems that both players are competing for the right centre position. I say seems because while I would say Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Nic Cotric and Jarrod Croker are all set at their respective positions, this last two weeks has me questioning all my received wisdom. Scott’s presence should ensure the entire back five considers themselves on notice.
Assuming that certain positions are set however, we are left with few options.
Play Scott out of position
One possibility is to play BJ and Scott in the same backline. Either Scott or Croker slides over to the wing, Cotric takes the other wing and Simonsson resumes the position as a utility he played at the end of 2019. It doesn’t feel like a perfect fit. Both Scott and Croker are specialist centres. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility, but neither are a perfect fit on the wing.
This is the best solution in taking advantage of the talent at your disposal. Centres and fullbacks find a way to play out of position all the time. Can Scott handle the high ball? Can he do the yardage work required? We may find out.
BJ as a reserve forward
Smarter people than me have suggested BJ (like the good folk over at the Green Machine Podcast could be a dynamite utility, able to cover a range of forward positions and shift into the backline at a moments notice. This is less of a stretch to me than shifting Scott or Croker to wing. BJ has shown in recent years that he’s willing to do the hard work of a forward with ball in hand, taking dirty carries in difficult situations and turning them into quick rucks and momentum for the Raiders. He could be brilliant in the middle, playing a similar role to that which his little brother Luciano played at St George. Get BJ the ball in the middle, let him float until he finds an opportunity. One might argue it gives Josh Hodgson another creative option close to the ruck. It’s almost enticing.
However, there are challenges in this approach. For starters I doubt the Raiders want the ball in Josh Hodgson’s hands less. The Milk need options to the right and left of him, but when the ball is in the middle, it should be up to him how they attack. It wouldn’t be the best use of Leilua either. BJ’s genius benefits from structure, and an ill-defined role in the middle could be a disaster. The defensive load would likely also be a challenge for BJ.
It also shifts the issue of fitting highly-paid players into the same team from the backs to the forwards. Leilua would possibly be taking minutes of Joe Tapine, Ryan Sutton, Hudson Young and Corey Horsburgh. Depth is excellent in the forwards, but this risks the development of these players in order to shoe-horn Scott and Leilua into the same side.
Play one or the other
One is that Scott and Leilua are simply competing for the same position. One will play, one will not. In this case my personal preference is BJ plays. At the risk of repeating myself, he’s one of the best centres in the competition at his best, uniquely able to create points from nowhere, take a hard carry to turnaround a set or lay a big hit. Scott is an excellent player and improving in all facets, but right now his upside is not the same as BJ’s.
The argument for starting Scott starts with greater certainty of performance, and a desire to ensure he develops to take over from BJ after 2020. This is not to be sneezed at, and particularly if the Raiders fall back into the pack (or out of contention), it begins to make more sense to be looking beyond next year.
A battle royale week to week seems like the most likely outcome to me should BJ and Scott both be in Canberra next year. It is clear that the Raiders believe in the importance of a competitive environment to bring out the best in players. Scott’s presence may just bring out the best in Leilua in his last season in Canberra. Or the season may go south, and Scott may be preferred as the Raiders look to the future.
Right now we get to wait and see how they’ll fit. Up until Mulholland seemingly confirmed Scott’s likely arrival I genuinely didn’t think he was coming. If he was I was sure it would be at the expense of Leilua. That we could keep them both seems like the best kind of problem.