Hudson Walks the Tightrope

BY DAN

“I want to give back to this team first and the coaches who have put trust in me. “I want them to trust me again. Also the players on the field next to me – I let them down last year – same with the fans. After I win that trust back from all those people, I’ll try hard to restore my own name.”

Hudson Young to Margie McDonald of NRL.com

Hudson Young did some dumb things last season. Things that he clearly regrets. But the punishment of both the league and fate may have profound impacts on his career well beyond what was intended by the judiciary last year. He is now walking a fine line to make his way back to the first 17.

By the time Young is eligible to play football it will have been nearly nine months since his error in the last round of 2019. This, of course, is a unfortunate mix of his mistake, and bad timing caused by the coronavirus-forced shut-down. And that’s if the season gets started on May 28.

The irony of this is that some of rugby league’s not brilliant minds wanted him rubbed out for a season. Joey Johns got his wish after all: you could easily squeeze a season into the time that Hudson has spent watching.

Such a long period of time will mean when round six finally does come around in mid to late June, Young will likely be consigned to Canterbury Cup football trying to build some semblance of match fitness. Only Canterbury Cup won’t be starting up until July, creating a further obstacle to Young returning to the top grade.

This pathway back is made even more perilous when you consider the meaningful roster changes that will further limit his ability to get an opportunity once he is fit. John Bateman, who Young looked like potentially filling in for while he was injured, will return now well before him. Bateman and Elliott Whitehead are both 80 minute men, meaning that the only way into that pack is to become part of the middle rotation. As a player Young is talented and versatile enough to do this – that’s how he originally broke into the 17 in 2019. But it’s not as simple as that.

Jordan Rapana’s return has created uncertainty in how the Raiders’ bench fills out. One theory has Rapana returning on the left wing, Bailey Simonsson becoming the utility player he was at the back end of 2019. Suddenly there is only three spots on the bench to fit in some mix of Corey Horsburgh, Joe Tapine, Ryan Sutton, Sia Soliola, Siliva Havili and Emre Guler. You’d think that one of Horsburgh and Tapine would start at 13 and the other has a bench spot sewn up alongside Sia Soliola. That leaves one position for Sutton, Havili, Guler and Young to fight it out for.

It’s only two rounds, but Emre Guler showed that he may be taking a leap in 2020. In the first two weeks he looked sprightly, taking 139 and 110 metres in these games respectively. He was quicker in his feet, and more reliable in defence than 2020, and without wanting to lapse into the ease of generalisations, he just looked like he belonged in a way that he hadn’t consistently displayed in 2018 or 2019. He’ll have at least three more rounds to establish himself before Young is available. For his part Havili, a critical back-up for Josh Hodgson who arguably provides more flexibility off the bench than Young or Simonsson. Ryan Sutton was first choice for much of 2019 until a calf injury derailed his season.

This will be the test for Hudson. It’s possible but not likely that he won’t find his way back to first grade this season. For a young footballer, time out of the game like this can have a real impact on their development. While his talent can’t be questioned, his mental focus and fortitude will likely be tested in ways it hasn’t before. Much of the criticism of his repeated citations for eye-gouging last year was based around a perception of lack of discipline. Well, nothing will test discipline like working your way back to first grade in this environment.

It’s a tough road for Hudson. His mistake has earned a punishment well beyond whatever was intended and he finds himself with a difficult task in uncertain times. He has the talent to find his way back, but 2020 will test more than just his ability.

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