If the Canberra Raiders are going to improve on their 2019 performance, Corey Horsburgh is going to be a big reason why.
I don’t mean that Corey Horsburgh has to do anything differently. No one is expecting him to suddenly become the focal point of the Raiders attack, nor the leader of the pack. I’m not expecting him to become the ball-player that can give the right side attack the same influence as Jack Wighton on the left.
But he does have to be better.
According to NRL.com Corey averaged 99.6 metres a game at just over 9 metres a carry (depending on your views of nrl.com’s stats v Fox’s). He added 23 tackles and just over an offload every time he went out there. Only Josh Papalii averaged more metres and offloads. Horsburgh in his first season was already a critical part of the Canberra pack. If he simply keeps his performance at the same level for the Green Machine he’ll likely find himself in the Queensland pack. There’s nothing to complain about there from a first year player. His performance was more than anyone in green could have hoped for.
Corey has plenty going for him and already showed over 2019 that he can improve. He began as fiery as his hair, but as the season went on became better disciplined. He proved he was more than just a prop, becoming a crucial link pass in sweeping movements, something that should he further develop could add another useful ball-play in the middle of the ground in support of Josh Hodgson. His lateral movement defence wasn’t always spectacular – Manu Ma’u’s try in round 15 is testament to that – but he was solid enough in that regard.
But he must get better.
The same output will only get you so far. As we pointed out in Part III of our season review, the carcasses of sides that lost a grand final and never made it back have been strewn across the landscape of the NRL. It’s not hard to see why – getting there is only half the battle. If you don’t win, you can’t sneak up on anyone the next year. Everyone is waiting for you. What you did best in one season won’t be what helps in the next. Players who had career years in one season rarely can contribute at 100 per cent of that level in the following year (can Josh Papalii get better? I might burst if he does). Others are already redlining their potential (Dunamis Lui I’m looking at you brother). Given the Raiders cap position, improvement in the forwards has to come through internal growth.
Sidebar: A few years ago on the back of the 2016 success and the departure of Paul Vaughan we wrote a similar piece about how important Dave Taylor would be to the Raiders in 2017. Canberra’s roster is in a much better place going in to 2020 than it was then.
The reality is that the Milk’s forward pack outperformed it’s talent in 2019. The way to beat the Raiders attack was to overwhelm them with the size they no longer had. In attack Canberra relied on Papa, BJ and the back three (best band name ever) to break down opposition defences. Teams will have noticed these tendencies and will be prepared for this in 2020. The Green Machine will need more from elsewhere.
The good news is that Corey has space to improve and colleagues ready to make the leap with him. Plenty will he expected of Emre Guler, and Hudson Young in particular over 2020. Guler will need to find a way to building the fitness and agility needed to stay in game for major minutes. Young has shown he can be a critical player both in the middle and the edge. His quick feet bely a future long-term starter (and maybe rep forward) if he can keep his hands out of people’s eyes. Ryan Sutton will be better in his second NRL season. Joe Tapine will eventually put a full season of hard running together I
In short there is plenty of room for improvement in the middle for the Raiders. There’s depth behind these players (I’m sure Siliva Havili, Jack Murchie and maybe even BJ Leilua) will be keen to push them for minutes in the middle. There’s strength in these numbers.
There’s a Corey Horsburgh sized need for improvement in the Raiders pack. Not because they aren’t up to scratch, but because climbing the mountain is harder the second time around. They need to find improvement, and Corey Horsburgh is a good place to start.