The Price of Potential


It was reported this week that Albert Hopoate visited the Raiders. One doesn’t do that for fun, and it’s fair to say there’s a good chance that the young gun could be in green next year. Hopoate is a potential star, but he doesn’t come without a risk, and these risks the Raiders will need to be sure of their talent identification, and development capabilities.

It’s a typical Peter Muholland play. Find a distressed talent that another team is giving up on and bank on Sticky’s structures and the beautiful Canberra climate to ensure he reaches his potential. It’s smart management, and something the Raiders have made a speciality of over the years.

This isn’t a typical “Raider Raise” scenario either. Hopoate was shown the door by Manly, and as far as we can tell Canberra are a front-runner for his signature. Normally the Raiders keep quiet about recruitment (a point we had made recently) until the deal is as good as done. Caleb Aekins, Ryan James and Curtis Scott signings either happened without much rumour-mongering, or the Milk were up front about their interest. In this circumstance Peter Mulholland has gone on the record saying the Green Machine are interested in adding the young star to the side.

“He came down to have a look. We are interested in any young player that has talent and potential and Albert is certainly one of those players. He was the outstanding player in his group coming through,”

Peter Mulholland to Nine News

Hopoate has no shortage of talent and at only 19 there’s plenty of upside. He’s been spoken of as a future star, and it seems it’s more of a sense of entitlement (by either him or his infamous father or some combination of both) that has driven him from Brookvale. He can play all across the backline, but the report includes the tidbit that he would provide depth to Curtis Scott and Bailey Simonsson (and I could get ahead of myself and surmise that means the Raiders expect Scott and Simo to be the right side in 2021).

Believing in his trajectory requires you to not only overlook the clashes with Des Hasler, but also requires you to be willing to overlook the two ACL injuries in recent years. Of course many players recover from them, but he spent so much time off the field in 2020 that we have no real idea whether he has retained the necessary agility and pace to be an outside back at the highest level. His brief forays into first grade so far haven’t really been stellar, and while his potentially a star with the ball in hand, his defence has not been of first grade standard. Look at how Melbourne tore him to shreds last year courtesy of Jason Oliver over at Rugby League Writers.

First Olam made him look silly

Then Papenhuyzen

Then Josh Addo-Carr

All those gifs came from Rugby League Writers. You should be reading them.

That’s not to say he’s not worth a look. This was his initial foray into first grade, at one of the hardest positions to defend, against a side that would go on to win the premiership largely on the basis of this left side attack. Picking up an asset like him at their lowest is a critical way to find the necessary salary cap value to build a sustainable and successful roster in the long term. Many smarter people than me have identified him as a future star, and the Raiders would be mad to not consider bringing him in if he needs a home (at a reasonable price).

It does however highlight that he is no sure thing. He’s talented for sure, but no certainty. That puts him in the exact same situation as basically every currently signed Raiders back outside of Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Jarrod Croker. It would appear the Raiders are seeking to add talent and bank on the fact that one of the young brigade will hit their straps. It’s a riskier play, and leaves little time to build surety and connection. Add in the fact that his father imitated Lavar Ball with his ‘active’ role in the young Hopoate’s time at Manly, and the uncertainty is substantial.

There is also an opportunity cost. The Raiders only have two places left in their roster for 2021, and with Jordan Rapana and Kai O’Donnell unsigned, and Elijah Anderson joining the club, someone will miss out if Hopoate comes on board. O’Donnell and Anderson are options for the development squad, but this requires an expansion of the development roster by agreement between the NRL and the Rugby League Players Association. Add to that how Peter Mulholland has described Anderson (‘like Greg Inglis’), if there’s no expansion of the development roster, Hopoate’s addition could create a greater than zero chance that Rapana leaves the green. Forget the absolute disappointment your boy would feel, this would also exacerbate the existing issues Canberra are facing with experience in the back five. While experience can’t cover for dead wheels, there’s enough to suggest Rapana still has some burn to spare. His ability to shift to right centre, while not perfect, is a good example of the value of experience.

So if the Raiders do bring Hopoate in – and it seems that’s their hope – it’s not your usual flyer on a damaged asset. There are real ramifications if they are successful in their pursuit of the young star. If they push experience or otherwise talented players out the door to accommodate Hopoate they’ll need to be on point not just with their talent identification, but with their development too. Let’s hope they’re up to the task.

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