It’s been a quiet offseason for the people rugby league team, the honourable Raiders is Canberra. All the big questions (would Jordy/BJ/Aidan stay? Is Curtis Scott actually coming) got answered really early. Summer has rolled on with little incident. Such was the sanguinity of the period that there was barely a raised eyebrow when they up and moved their entire preseason training to the Sunshine Coast. It’s as stable a build-up as you could ask for, personnel speaking. Plenty of time for combinations and relationships to build.
There is one remaining positional discussion that has remained unresolved by the passing of the Christmas break. Just like we were prior to Santa shuffling in and out of our lives (I did good in my annual whisky stockpile; thanks for asking), we still are waiting to hear how the back five will shake out with the arrival of Curtis Scott.
I said earlier this offseason that Scott’s presence should ensure the entire back five considers themselves on notice. To an extent Coach Stuart confirmed this recently when he said positioning would be determined by training, but it still doesn’t feel like this world of ours will ever see Croker, Charnze or Cotric being displaced. Assuming their positions are set however, we are left with few options.
Play Scott out of position
One option we have canvassed in the past is to play BJ and Scott in the same backline. Scott 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. Scott is a centre first, although he has spent time on the wing during his career. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility, but it’s not a perfect fit either.
This is the probably 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. It keeps BJ Leilua’s damaging runs but also gets Scott involved in the first string side. In this scenario 2020 is merely preparation for Scott to slide over in the long term. In the short term though we’ll need answers to how Scott can handle life as a winger. Can he take the pressure of the high ball? Can he do the yardage work required? We may find out.
BJ as a reserve forward
Another option is BJ Leilua, super sub. This would be a role similar to what Bailey Simonsson filled for the Raiders in the back half of 2019, just with a bit more muscle.
It’s not a bad option. BJ is a damaging runner, a one man wrecking crew. So much of his best work is taking hard hit ups and turning nothing sets into something. Getting him more involved as a dynamite utility, able to cover a range of forward positions and shift into the backline at a moments notice, doesn’t sound so bad.
In attack this is less of a stretch to me than shifting Scott 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.
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.
A final question for me is whether BJ could handle the defensive load. I don’t doubt his physical capability to muscle up. But the load in the middle is different to the edge. It’s constant, and it wears people down over the season. It would require a different body shape for BJ. However, that why rumours that he stayed behind from the camp in the Sunshine Coast to “get more into his legs” are so intriguing. This may be an indication that there is a feeling that he could fill this role with a slight tweak in his body shape (probably a few more burgers and a few more squats).
Play one or the other
The final option 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 when fit, 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. Can they hurry up and play?
Hey thanks for getting this far. I’d already written about this positional battle last year so I borrowed a bunch from that piece. So don’t worry if it feels even more familiar than usual, I definitely stole bits from myself. Oh yeah, and do us a solid and like our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or share this on social media. Don’t hesitate to send us feedback or comment below if you think we are stupid. Or if we’re not.