The Canberra Raiders have many heroes. Some of them we talk about more than others. But for every Josh Hodgson or Josh Papalii there’s an Elliott Whitehead or a Hudson Young, who don’t share the profile of others, but will be nearly as integral to the Raiders success in 2020. These are their stories [insert Law and Order duh duh sound].
You can check out Part I on Elliot a Whitehead here.
Michael Oldfield could probably be playing first grade if he wanted.
There’s always space for a player with his combination of pace and strength. He’s an excellent finisher, perfectly capable of taking the hard yardage carries required of modern wingers. Anyone that remembers bis brilliant 70m try against the Cowboys in July of 2017 will testify to that. While he’s not a defensive stopper, on the wing he’s more than capable of appropriate coverage. He can play every position in the back five at a pinch. There’s not a club in the league that wouldn’t want him in their 30, and plenty that he would find more consistent opportunities.
For the Raiders he’s often played an uncelebrated role. Always the third (or fourth) choice at wing, his opportunities have been sparse. He’s filled in behind Rapana, Cotric and even Simonsson. He spent time at centre and winger when BJ Leilua had his horrific injury in 2019. Interestingly the 18 games he’s played over three seasons with the Raiders are actually some of this most consistent football since he returned to the NRL from Super League in 2016. Even at his most needed, he’s often overlooked.
He’s offered all the Raiders have needed. The consummate professional, able to fill whatever gap in the machine that exists week to week.
The role can change abruptly, as it has done this week. This lack of specified role has contributed to Oldfield being an afterthought this offseason in the elongated discussion around the arrival of Curtis Scott and the departure of BJ the Gawd. With Scott’s off-field idiocy, suddenly the bat-signal has gone up again for Oldfield.
In all likelihood he’ll start the season on the wing. Nic Cotric, already playing on the right side in training, will find the shift inwards to right centre familiar from 2019. Oldfield will he asked to do what he always does and plug the remaining hole.
It’s a good fit for Oldfield. He’s best suited to the wing, not just because of his strong carry and quick feet. He’s defensive positioning at centre isn’t his strong suit. Too often he turns his body out before the ball has passed him, and it leaves his inside shoulder (and the inside defender) susceptible to anyone with a spring in their step. On the wing the hardest defensive decisions are made inside him. He gets to follow them, and spend the rest of the game playing to his strengths.
Harley Smith-Shields is also emerging as a contender for his spot as ‘next in line’ outside back. I’ve not seen enough of Smith-Shields to have a strong view of him, but the fact that he’s part of the 30 man squad at just 20 suggest there is talent to burn.
Could the emergence of the next shiny thing undermine Oldfield just as he is about to get his most consistent run? It would be a cruel turn of fate. Oldfield is hardly as exciting as young talent but there is no doubt he will offer everything the Raiders need of him if given the opportunity. This seems the most likely outcome. Given his contract is up in Canberra at the end of the year, time on the field will go a long way to determining if he can earn a bigger pay-check over the next few years (and, in all likelihood, whether the Milk can afford to keep him around). Maybe a decent run will raise the eyebrows of people outside Canberra and finally get Oldie the recognition he deserves.
If not, he’ll resume his role as critical depth, ready to jump in and help with whatever is needed, whenever it’s needed. He’ll remain out of the spotlight, the Raiders’ secret.
I hope for his sake he gets the chance to shine.
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