In 2019, the emergence of Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad was a talisman for the Raiders. Ignored by pretty much everyone before the season started, Nicoll-Klokstad took to the fullback spot like the Green Machine took the competition: with vigour. Like the Raiders he stunned everyone, and like the Raiders he made it through 70 minutes of the grand final before not quite going the whole way (did Ben Cummins spike Charnze’s drink with lactic acid? I guess we’ll never know). Along the way he suddenly became everyone’s favourite Raiders when it emerged just how good of a bloke he was.
It was a brilliant first season that mirrored the Raiders rise. Again in 2020 though, his ability to do what he did in 2019, and even grow from that, will be mirror the Milk’s battle in 2020.
Charnze admitted as much to Troy Whittaker at NRL.com, saying that “it’s not going away from what I did well last year, it’s just adding to my craft little bits at a time.”
So whats a man got to do to get better?
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad: Escape Artist
Charnze is already elite in some skills. He lead the league in escapes from the in-goal. While this is a bit of an a nebulous statistic, it reflected two aspects of Charnze’s game that are underrated; his agility and his determination. Teams were constantly taken by surprise when they would think that had a repeat set sewn up, when all of a sudden the Milk’s custodian would emerge from the in-goal.
It was important for the Raiders because they played so many games with a possession deficit. This occurred for a range of reasons (sometimes related to their own inability to earn repeat sets, other times related to their preference to give away a penalty rather than a quick ruck in the redzone), but in short, Charnze’s earned the Raiders more sets with the ball, and therefore more breaks from the defensive grind. More than once a brilliant defensive stand was capped by Charnze somehow emerging from a crowded endzone.
Charnze was also elite in carving up huge metres. In the Milk’s grand final loss Nicoll-Klokstad was a force, dragging the Raiders 270 metres closer to glory. This was hardly an isolated incident. He was second in the league in total run metres (behind James Tedesco), averaging 163 which was a full 25 metres a game ahead of the next best Raider (Josh Papalii – 138m).
Mostly he did it through hard running, either in yardage work or on returning kicks. But he also did with a good ability to make defenders miss. Nicoll-Klokstad averaged 3.3 tackle breaks a game, the same as noted game breaker Joey Leilua (3.3) and more that Nic Cotric (3.2).
The final link
The only major area for improvement in Charnze’s game is in his ball-playing. Charnze had four try assists on the year, and that possibly overstated his creative role in the Raiders attack.
Partly this was because Charnze has little experience in this role. On sweep movements You could see him chime into the line and, more often than not, get caught with the ball. This was actually a good thing – it reflected a maturity to hold the ball when the option to pass didn’t present itself. Or at least, he didn’t see it. Experience in this role as a secondary ball-player will allow him to see available options more readily and adjust accordingly. It’s exactly the kind of small addition to his game he spoke up to NRL.com, but it could have a massive impact on the Raiders.
Partly this is because of his positioning in attack. Charnze is so important to the Raiders as a support player in the middle, mirroring the role that James Tedesco often plays for the Roosters. He’s there to be the recipient of a Papalii or Tapine half break. In the trial game recently we saw him almost exclusively operate in the middle third of the ground. There’ll be opportunities for him to play a more expansive role this season – he’s already noted that he expects to be playing of George Williams on the right – and this is the perfect way he can add more variety to the Raiders attack.
Expecting Charnze to improve on his 2019 is a big ask. It was a career year in every sense, not just putting him on the radar, but establishing as one of the top shelf players at the position. It earned him a trip to grand final and representative honours. If he can add maintain those aspects that made him great, while building on his game, the possibilities are endless.