Hoping Sammy Stays

BY DAN

Hidden away in the recent squad announcements for 2021 was a little ray of hopeful sunshine for many Canberra Raiders fans: Sam Williams is still scheduled to be in green for 2021. Given the recent news about a possible shift to Wakefield this is good to hear. Sam’s net benefit to Canberra hopefully keeps him in green for 2021.

Williams is probably the best back up seven available under the cap. He’s a capable first-grade player who kicks smartly, passes well to both sides and can organise an offence with aplomb. If needed he can give the Raiders four to five weeks of quality, consistent football; he’ll never play origin but he’ll always give you a decent standard of play. It’s a big part of why the Raiders keep him around.

This time last year when he re-signed I said that he’d maxed out his upside in the 2012 semi-final against them Sharks (til this day one of the greatest playoff performances by a Raider). But even though he barely got a shot at the top in 2020, in the last game of the season he showed that he’s still capable of being an effective half in the top grade, shepherding the Baby Raiders to an improbably victory against Cronulla.

There are reasons he can’t play in the top grade. He can be so focused on organising other people that he doesn’t dig into the line enough. At his best this is a feature of his game; but it can go missing. He”s also small, and when he plays teams can and do take advantage of his presence in the line – not so much to find line breaks or tries but rather quick rucks and set momentum. The longer he’s in his he line-up, the better teams are able to game plan for him, contributing to his limited temporal utility.

But he’s the perfect man to be waiting in the wings if there’s an issue with his namesake George. The Raiders have other players who can handle themselves in the halves like Adam Cook and Matt Frawley but none of them have the cache of Williams. He has years of connections with a range of players in this side, and has proven routinely that he can slot in and perform. The certainty it provides is not just a salve to the coaching staff, it also provides a robustness to the Raiders ongoing chances. An injury to a starting halfback can be a death-knell for most sides. This isn’t the case for Canberra while Sam is around.

Sam’s impact on the field isn’t the whole story. He’s a leader at the club, even if he doesn’t get to show it on the field often. No better was this exemplified that his speech to the club after his announcement as the game-day captain with the Baby Raiders. After Sam said winning would be the best moment in his career, I was ready to run through a wall. I reckon the Baby Raiders were too.

There’s clearly an on-field component to this. Sam is vocal on the field and seems like the kind of guy who has a clear idea how the Raiders can succeed. Even if he’s not getting regular minutes he is an influential elder statesman. Canberra has plenty of youth in the squad, providing depth and competition at nearly every position. Old heads like Sam can provide important insight to the kids about how to be a first grade footy player.

I speculated earlier this year that Sia Soliola was a valuable signing because the mooted reduced football department cap would make his experience as a pseudo-coach more valuable. Sam provides a similar function; and with plenty of youth in this squad, statesmen like Sam are even more important.

Like with Soliola, the Raiders should consider whether he might make a good coach, and consider his development in that regard. He’d be years away from taking over at the club, but it makes sense for the Raiders to keep this option open – perhaps in the form of transitioning him into coaching during the next few years. They’ve always shown a predilection for hiring old boys. If you’re going to operate within that prism, we may as well make the most of it.

So Sam will never leave…right?

Being named on the 30 man roster is better than not, but it’s hardly a guarantee. It was no guarantee for many a player before him. This time last year I thought Sam would be in Canberra until 2030. But he’s getting towards the end of his career, and now may be the right time to jump to Super League. It’s unlikely the Raiders pay him much more than the minimum, so if Wakefield are willing to make it worth his while fiducially you couldn’t but wish him good fortune.

This is a by no means certain. While the Super League may be knocking now, the relative certainty of the National Rugby League’s financial position compared to the English competition. Reports are that there’s even a possibility the NRL may purchase the entire English competition. Given the Australian competition has lost it’s share of cash in 2020, one can only imagine the state the English game is in. And while there’s a good reason to hope the NRL may be back to a bubble-less life in 2021, one only has to look at the daily virus numbers in Great Britain to know Sammy might be tempted to put any shift north off for bit.

And if he does, the Raiders will be better for it.

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