The Canberra Raiders have reportedly signed 18 year old English forward Harry Rushton to a three-year deal. All reports are that this is a coup for the Milk, even though Rushton is yet to play a game of Super League, let alone anything approaching the level of the NRL. Decisions like this are a risk, but they’re also part of what has made the Raiders successful.
A hallmark of the Canberra Raiders’ success over time has been in their ability to find talent where others aren’t often looking. It’s a necessity of being a ‘small market’ team. They can’t compete on money with the third party laced offerings of Sydney and Brisbane. So they have to find people the big clubs aren’t bothering with. Once upon a time it was in Brisbane, then it became New Zealand. Fiji, Tonga, England and even (for a split second) Sierra Leone have all been places where the Green Machine have found help.
Their current squad is no different. Much is (rightly) made of the impact of John Bateman, but this is a house that Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead built. When they joined the club most weren’t sure what to make of them. Hodgson had hardly torn the Super League apart and only made his international debut for England after he’d agreed to terms with Canberra. Then he just became the guy that jumped through a door. What a delight it was when he was was almost immediately clear he
was my one true love finally gave the Raiders a quality, modern hooker. Whitehead turned up the next year, a little more established internationally, quickly becoming a key cog in the Green Machine. Bateman and Ryan Sutton joined in 2019, and now George Williams for 2020. Bateman and Williams in particular were bigger names, so represented less risk they’d be good, but more risk they’d match their pay packets. So far so good.
The Raiders have been so effective in England they’ve even found quality former NRL players there , bringing home Sia Soliola to be a critical part of Sticky’s Canberra rebuild, as well as Frank Paul Nu’uausala and Jeff Lima. In the meantime the Raiders have only missed once on recent forays in England, with Jordan Turner returning to England without playing a first grade game (you could talk me into Frank because I will never forgive him for that Titans game *mutters incoherantly*).
So much weight has been put on this success in recruiting in England that it’s become focused on England being the reason, not the Raiders willingness to look where others don’t. Sometimes it’s through brilliant talent identification – they found Bailey Simonsson and Jordan Rapana playing Rugby (or, trying to in Jordan’s case). Sometimes there’s a fair chunk of luck. Anyone could have had Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad or Dunamis Lui or Siliva Havili if they’d been willing to carve a role for them. Similarly Corey Horsburgh, Emre Guler could have been playing for the Cowboys and Souths. That’s part of rugby league. You put money into some players, let others go and hope that you have the smarts or the luck to pick the right ones.
That’s not to say there’s not plenty of home-grown talent. Cotric, Croker, Wighton. But the reality is the Raiders are more often fighting to keep that. Plenty of talent has left the club, and so the Green Machine can’t just hope to fill their squad with juniors from the local region.
This is the Raiders story. Sign players that are value – either before they’re expensive or after they are (think Jason Smith). You get enough of these right and you can have a good team. Right now the Raiders have probably been too good at talent identification. Finding a way to keep all their 2019 players on the roster requires finding cheap talent to fill out the bits around the big names.
That’s where Harry Rushton fits in. No experience, no guarantees and no transfer fee. He’s 18 and 97kg. He may be amazing in the future but right now he’ll be another project in the Raiders’ development system (one with a bit more pedigree than normal). He could be brilliant, he could be *just* fine. That’s the risk you take with talented youngsters. It takes a while for all the factors to come together. The world is littered with former Junior Kangaroos that never became stars. Three years on the contract suggests the Raiders are very positive about Rushton’s capabilities.
We won’t know yet whether Harry will be a star. Few at his age and size are. But regardless of how he turns out, he represents yet another step in a long tradition of building the Green Machine with talent that other teams have looked over (or in this case, probably hadn’t even been aware of). Finding value is hard. You gotta know where to look and be willing to take a risk. Hopefully Harry pays off.