Is BJ Going Staying or Going?

BY DAN

The West’s Tigers have announced they would like to put Rugby League Twitter’s dream team together, uniting BJ Leilua with his brother Luciano at the club. Rumours to this end have been around a while, but the growing evidence that BJ is second string at Canberra, and the Tigers terrible offseason mean that now they may have more grounding in reality. While many are (rightly) excited about the arrival of Curtis Scott, the departure of Leilua would be a massive loss for the Milk.

Late in 2019 BJ Leilua seemed to put to bed any rumours about his position, announcing he intended to be with the Raiders in 2020. It had been reported that the Milk were content to let him go, largely due to the fact that they weren’t willing to pay full value for the back end of his career after 2020. No other side had then come forward with the money necessary to tempt BJ prior to the 2020 season, so BJ saw no benefit in leaving the substantial wage he would earn in Canberra on the table. When Curtis Scott came on board Canberra announced their plan post 2020, and all that was left was to ask whether Leilua and Scott could co-exist for a year.

Before he announced he was staying, rumours had pinned BJ as potentially going to a number of places. The Tigers rarely came up; largely because they were more focused on trying to snare the unhappy Latrell Mitchell and the former Tiger Josh Addo-Carr. Mitchell was snapped up by Souths, and while the Fox’s status is still somewhat up in the air after 2020, it was confirmed he’d be in Melbourne for this year.

This means Wests are free to spend in 2020, and it’s plausible they could provide the necessary money to bridge the gap between what has been offered to BJ on the open market and his higher salary in Canberra. I would also assume they’d have to offer some longevity and security to attract Leilua, but the opportunity to play with his brother is likely an incentive, particularly since he lost his “brother from another mother” in Jordan Rapana.

It’s a smart decision by the Tigers. They are a profoundly disciplined side in need of talent. Teams that aren’t the Roosters, Souths or Brisbane can find it hard to attract elite level players in their primes – ask Latrell Mitchell how he feels about them. Targeting distressed assets – players that have the talent but aren’t fulfilling it for whatever reason – is a smart way around that problem.

BJ has talent in spades, and the only obstacles to him fulfilling it are health, playing time and discipline. They can fix playing time, and can trust that BJ’s back is better after a scary injury in 2019. All that’s left is to trust that renowned disciplinarian Michael Maguire can get the best out of BJ. He represents a cheaper option than both Mitchell and Addo-Carr, capable delivering as well as either of them on the field. It’d be nothing short of a coup for the Tigers.

Without knowledge of what the inner sanctum thinks, it seems unlikely the Milk would stand in BJ’s way if a better offer came from Wests. It’s already been made clear that Canberra sees his position as Scott’s from now and into the future. They’ve already said they won’t be extending him beyond 2020. If the Tigers are serious (and it’s a Daily Telegraph report, so that’s a big if), it seems Leilua is eminently attainable.

I’m not fit to rifle through Ricky Stuart’s garbage (and I don’t I swear), but this would be a profound error in my view. The Raiders have no need to clear cap space before the season starts. They have no idea if Curtis Scott will be all they hoped, and if given the reigns he wouldn’t be my first choice at 4.

BJ Leilua is still an incredible talent that the Milk could need at some point in 2020. His physical defence may be needed to support George Williams adjust to the torrent of attack that will be directed his way. His work as a “third prop” has been invaluable to a Raiders side that desperately needs people that can force quick rucks just because they run like the Kool-Aid man.

If a back gets injured there’s no Bailey Simonsson waiting in the wings. There is coverage; Michael Oldfield can cover wing, Seb Kris can play centre, and Harley Smith-Shields may offer more than both. But carrying BJ as a reserve (however that may look) gives the Raiders a unique flexibility not bestowed upon many teams – not many teams put arguably their best outside back on the bench.

While the existence of this rumour isn’t evidence that Leilua is leaving, it is another sign of the tenuousness of the Raiders hold on him. The Scott decision, and his contract position, means Leilua’s time in Canberra is limited by the willingness of other teams to pay the price for him to leave. If the Tigers are willing to spend the money, it’s be hard to besmirch Leilua for getting one last payday. The hope is that this is just noise, either from Leilua’s management, trying to make it clear that BJ is not interested in a bench role, or from the Tigers chucking out a line and trying to get a bite. But without the security of a long term contract, or potentially a starting position, it’s becoming more of a hope than a certainty.

If it does come to pass it would be gut-wrenching to see, and would be a substantial risk for the Green Machine. Time to wait and see.

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