According to David Polkinghorne at The Canberra Times, the Canberra Raiders have extended a one-year extension offer to emerging hooker Tom Starling. (Update: And Alicia Newton from NRL.com has reported he seems likely to take it). Regardless of whether Starling takes the offer (and we certainly hope he does), it shows the Milk are keeping an eye on the future.
Keeping the Kincumber Colt in Canberra makes a lot of sense. He’s proven in recent weeks that he can cut it at first grade.We put much of the case here, but here’s a short version: His service from dummy-half is quality, he can play short and long, and he’s likely to tear a defence a new one given a modicum of space. The rub was always that he’s small, and therefore a defensive liability, but with 100 plus tackles without a miss in recent weeks, he’s proven that even though he attracts props like moths to the flame, he’s more than capable of bringing the big men down.
Most people have seen enough to know that at the very least Tommy Tardigrade will be a serviceable starter (at the very least) in the coming years. Smarter people than me will suggest there’s more, and there might be, but I’m not ready to plant my stake just yet. He’s shown plenty of skill, but as yet hasn’t shown the creativity needed by the modern nine – with only 1 try assist so far this season). That’s not to stay he doesn’t have creative ability, or can’t develop it. It’s more that he hasn’t really had the opportunity to fully showcase his skills. .
Regardless of the fact he’s an incomplete picture, teams will be sniffing. Hooker is arguably the most important position in modern football, and even if you already have one, you need more than one to stay afloat. Just ask Canberra, Melbourne, Newcastle or the Roosters. Teams will be looking at their depth at 9 and perusing the depth charts of rivals. Every time the Tommy Gun keeps firing as a reinforcement for the Raiders, it increases the likelihood of another side finding a spot in their 30 for him.
So it makes sense for the Green Machine to make a move to tie him up now. Every game Tommy Terrific (the third) turns in like last weekend will just increase his visibility, and potentially his cost to whoever gets to keep him. Given Siliva Havili is also off contract, and Josh Hodgson is 30 and will be coming off a second knee reconstruction, and you can see why Peter Mulholland wants to wrap this up this week.
My only question is the length of the contact. It seems the pitch to Starling is stick around another year, learn from Hodgson (which if Tommy the Tank Engine’s public statements are accurate, he is very much doing), then take the money on the open market then. By then the Raiders will know if Hodgson’s knee is where it needs to be, and can ascertain whether they are the team to pay big(ger) money to Up and a’Tom, or whether he’ll find his home elsewhere. It may not be enough this year – he may just outperform what the Raiders can afford, which is why more years might have been a way to keep him.
It’s hard to hate. Sticky and Mulholland have shown they always have half an eye on the future in building this roster, and have clearly identified who they want to keep, and how much they want to pay them. Sometimes it hasn’t worked out, sometimes it’s less clear, but most of the time the Milk have ended up on the right side of that ledger. Regardless of the individual decisions, they’ve proven time and time again they’ve got an eye on the future, and are trying to not just build a side for today, but for tomorrow too.
Just whether Tom Starling fits into that future we’ll hopefully know soon.
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