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].
At this stage of his career Hudson Young is better known outside Canberra for his wandering hands than his fast feet.
In September of last year he gave the Rugby League hot take community free licence to judge the worth of his character when he was charged with eye-gouging for a second time. He was immediately written off as ‘not ready for first grade‘ by Brad Fittler and told he should spend 2020 on the sidelines by renowned rule-follower and cool-head Andrew Johns. He became a pariah; no longer a football player, but rather an opportunity for people with nothing to say to be given clear pathway to a thought. In a recent NRL.com list of the Raiders’ best 17 for round 1 (which he isn’t available for) he was listed as the last of the “other players”.
The thing is, Hudson Young is really, really good.
He’s young (dad zing boom!), and with that comes a range of things. Most notably some poor decision making processes, and worse, a lesson that took two shots to learn. What he did was no doubt not ideal, but as pointed out last year, not worth the invective it received from people who never made any mistakes ever (seriously Reni Matua. You got kicked out of the competition for 2 years for taking drugs. Maybe a bit more chill hey).
The thing about Young is that despite his immature act, he’s otherwise shown a great deal of maturity in his play. He started last season getting minutes as a rotation forward in the middle. When John Bateman broke his face in Wagga, he stepped in as an edge defender, and held his own in the hardest defensive position in rugby league. The irony here was that he excelled with his decision-making at pace. 87.7 per cent tackle efficiency, primarily on the edge, isn’t elite level but it’s better than bigger names like Angus Crichton (87.4 per cent), Boyd Corder (86.7 per cent), Sam Burgess (85.1 per cent) and broadly comparable with a range of others (Elliot Whitehead 88.7 per cent, John Bateman 91.4 per cent) (All numbers for 2019 season only). For a rookie to show such success on the edge is astounding. If he improves at all he could be elite.
Such was the relative quality of his edge defence that it obscured the equally impressive bit of his game – his quick feet as a forward. Young is a strong man, but close to the line he shows the kind of fleet feet that have made people like Paul Vaughan household names. He can squirm any situation into a quick ruck just because of how defenders can never get a clean hit on him. His only try of the season, jumping out of dummy-half and beating three defenders with a mix and dexterity and power highlighted the value of this package. He didn’t pick up massive metres in any of his performances (he only averaged 65.4 metres a game), but clearly showed he has the potential to be a devastating runner, either in the middle or on the edge.
This mix of brutality and brilliance, and his ability to defend at the hardest position on the ground give the Raiders a great deal of flexibility in their 17. While the Raiders have plenty of players that have both edge and middle reps through their careers (Sia, Smelly, Taps to name a few), there’s clearly a desire to keep them in their roles for reasons of consistency, coherence, and maybe in Sia’s case, age. Young gives the Raiders the ability to carry a forward who can be part of a middle rotation, or provide cover on an edge should the unthinkable occur to iron-men Whitehead and Bateman, and do both at a high level. Players like him are rare.
Which is what makes the fact that he won’t be part of the Milk’s early season forays so frustrating. Young should be raring to go for 2020, if it wasn’t for the lengthy suspension that will keep him out for the first five rounds. His ability to provide cover for John Bateman’s healing shoulder should have quietened any anxiety among the Green Machine and their fans. Instead he’ll be watching from the sidelines, delaying his impact on 2020 because of the sins of 2019.
And it’s for that reason that those outside Canberra do not include him on their team lists or things to look out for. He’s been reduced to nothing more than a 2019 talking point. For the Raiders though, he’s a crucial part of 2020 and beyond.