Goodbye Michael Oldfield?

BY DAN

It has been reported by the Canberra Times that Michael Oldfield is close to leaving the Canberra Raiders to sign with the Parramatta Eels.

Update: Now confirmed by the club

Such is the way of players like Oldie that never seem to get a lengthy crack in the top line. They shift club to club, always in search of a more permanent home.

Oldfield’s likely departure from Canberra is saddening but almost inevitable. We flagged it here weeks ago after the Raiders signed Caleb Aekins.

He is victim of a brutal combination of factors. Firstly, the squeeze that the coronavirus is putting on the number of developmental players in squads means teams have to choose between keeping young talent in the top 30, or another veteran like Oldie. The performance of Semi Valemei, Matt Timoko and Harley Smith-Shields in 2020 have ended that discussion. It can’t help that the Raiders don’t really have a NSW cup side. It’s beneath Oldfield to toil in the local Canberra league waiting for an injury in the top squad. Finally, the signature of squad depth like a Aekins means the luxury of veteran depth is one the Raiders don’t have the space for, and can no longer afford.

He’s now played 54 games over ten seasons at five clubs and is joining his sixth (and that doesn’t include a two-year stretch in the super league). It’s been a career of fits and starts. The 25 games he’s played for the Raiders (including 15 over the last two seasons) are the most he’s played for any club. He’s only played half the games in a season once, and it was in 2011.

It looked like he might finally get a sustained opportunity this year. Injuries and Curtis Scott’s form slump opened up a spot for Oldfield, but he only managed six games (three started) before a combination of hamstrings and a broken thumb that required surgery allowed a different reality to establish itself in his absence. Semi Valemei showed promise, Jordan Rapana was good enough at right centre, and that’s all it took for Oldie to be watching again.

It’s such a shame because even though he hasn’t been a star for the Raiders, he’s been a critical fail-safe; a safety blanket, reached for in crisis, like when Leilua was injured in 2019. Earlier in the year we called him one of Canberra’s forgotten heroes; one of those players that is critical to a team’s success, filling gaps when needed but who only get accolades from the die-hard fans.

He takes to Parramatta his combination of pace and strength. I’ve said this before, but he’s an excellent finisher, perfectly capable of taking the hard yardage carries required of modern wingers. Anyone that remembers bis brilliant 70m try against the Cowboys in July of 2017 will testify to that. While he’s not a defensive stopper, on the wing he’s more than capable of appropriate coverage. He can play every position in the back five at a pinch (though his defence at centre is not his strength, particularly if you remember what Euan Aitken did to him in round 8 this season). There’s not a club in the league that wouldn’t enjoy having him in their 30, and plenty that he would find more consistent opportunities.

The good news is that at Parramatta he may finally find a chance at a consistent role. Michael Jennings’ drug test, Brad Takarangi’s retirement, and a host of other players being pushed out the door mean that Oldfield will have a chance to establish himself as a first choice outside back. Centre looks open for the time being, and while it’s not his best position, I don’t think Oldie will disappoint. He never does.

Good luck Michael Oldfield. I hope you find your opportunity.

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