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].
Siliva Havili came to Canberra as a dark cloud hung over the side. The most important cog in the Green Machine has been hurt, seriously, and it meant the Raiders 2018 campaign was likely dead before it started.
In this darkness there was the silver lining of opportunity for Havili. He needed it. As Dan Walsh reported at the time, he had a baby on the way and no club, or more importantly, contract to call his own. He said he was in a dark place at the time. His career to this point had been disjointed. Two years at the Warriors and one at the Dragons had failed to produce a stable job. Canberra was a shot at something more substantial; a chance to play regular minutes in a talented, if flawed, side.
It wasn’t going to the an easy ride to a starting spot. He joined the club alongside Craig Garvey, another player desperate for a full-time gig. He only had the pre-season to prove his worth, and after seeing him (and Garvey) do their best to prove themselves, Coach Stuart decided that an unprepared and undersized Aidan Sezer was going to play a bigger role than he should have. Siliva got first crack in the trials and played smartly but within himself. After one trial we suggested he should run more, which now seems comical in hindsight.
In his first game he made the most of his limited minutes. Early on, he took a run fifteen metres from dummy-half before being touched. Later in the set he barged over from dummy-half. It was hardly the Josh Hodgson experience but it was clear that the Milk had another player they could depend on, and sometimes that’s exactly what you need.
While it became profoundly clear that Aidan Sezer was, in fact, not a hooker (who knew?!), and Craig Garvey struggled to gain attention with his often excellent performance for the Mounties, Havili set about establishing himself as the first choice nine (non Josh-Hodgson edition). Through the first 14 rounds he became a starting quality hooker, using his powerful run to take metres when they were on offer. Given the Raiders had been scrambling to find a way to plug a hole at the beginning of the year, Havili had done a stellar job.
When Josh Hodgson returned that season it wasn’t immediately clear how it would all fit together. Hodgson came off the bench twenty minutes into his first game, made sweet love to the West Tigers and suddenly it wasn’t clear what Siliva Havili would do. We speculated before the game that Havili’s running game would allow him to play some minutes as a rotation middle forward, and while he didn’t get many opportunities in that game, that became a big part of his service offering.
Over the coming weeks, and through most of the 2019 season, Siliva would transform again, from starting hooker to utility belt. He filled in at 9 if the Raiders wanted that look. He filled in as a middle forward if that’s what was needed. His interplay with Hodgson as a shoulder runner was intelligent; a gift that could only come from someone who saw what Josh was seeing.
Along the way Siliva became a big part of the Raiders culture, a guy that everyone on the team seemed to love to have around. You find me a Raiders fan who has a bad word to say about Siliva and I’ll show you a liar. He does what the team needs, and as he told David Polkinghorne last year about his traversing between positions: “”I’ve just got to get my head around both positions and do what’s best for the team.”
Then almost suddenly what was best for the team didn’t involve him. Towards the end of last year, Siliva started to fall off the Raiders radar. He barely played in round 21 loss to the Roosters, and then didn’t play in the dramatic “Once Upon A Time in Melbourne” win the following week. A few here and there appearances and he was out of the side for the memorable finals run. The emergence of Corey Horsburgh, Hudson Young and Emre Guler meant there was less space for Havili on the bench. Hodgson didn’t need a back up, and so the Raiders opted for straight bangers in reserve. Then Bailey Simonsson’s rise meant the Raiders had to find space for six backs and only five spots, and the utility spot was no longer Havili’s.
Heading into 2020 though, an opportunity has emerged for Siliva. John Bateman is injured, Hudson Young is suspended and Jack Murchie is leaving (probably? reportedly? does the Mole count?). We suggested that Joe Tapine would be a good fit on the right edge, and smarter people than me saw Corey Horsburgh line up there at the Raiders fan day. Either way it means another middle forward is likely to move to the edge. Just as sudden as he fell out of the rotation in 2019, Siliva has a chance to re-establish himself in the 17 again.
Just like when he first joined the club, he’ll get a shot because a star won’t be available, one that most Raiders’ fans will admit they can ill afford to miss. A critical cog is missing, and Siliva Havili will be part of the solution.
And just like at every stop for the Canberra Raiders, he’ll be someone you can rely on.