Safety Valve

BY DAN

Over the last few years, whenever the Canberra Raiders faced an injury in their backline they always had a tried and true performer waiting to fill a spot. Michael Oldfield was a luxury, one that the Green Machine could no longer afford this off-season.

It’s a different situation now for Canberra. Their depth is such that it’s hard to know who will start, let alone who will be first off the pine in the event of an injury. Matt Timoko seems to be a short-priced favourite to push both Jarrod Croker and Curtis Scott for playing time. Harley Smith-Shields has all the talent of Timoko with potential to fill across all back five positions. Bailey Simonsson is has been mooted as starting on a wing while also ostensibly being the back-up fullback, and Semi Valemei is for all intents and purposes the incumbent winger. Oh yeah. And Albert Hopoate (and more and more).

So yeah. A bit going on. But what happens in the event of injury if there’s no Michael Oldfield to be the jack-of-all trades?

For starters you’d think that first crack would be given to the next guy in the depth chart. The loser of Semi and Bailey would fill in should the victor (or Rapana) get hurt. Timoko and Smith-Shields next in at the centres, and Bailey at the back. Aekins and Hopoate could be anything at this stage.

But progress and reliability of developing players is a fickle thing. Canberra has been extremely lucky in recent years that players like Cotric, Nicoll-Klokstad, Simonsson and Valemei have all entered first grade and (mostly) succeeded. Expectations on Timoko are already at fever pitch (not helped by your boys excitement over him) and Smith-Shields has been touted for years to make a fist of first grade at first shot. It’s a lot to ask of players who will have barely had a run in close to 18 months come round one.

So there may come the circumstances in which Raiders need a more certain option.

Luckily they have exactly that in Jordan Rapana. Rapana spent much of 2020 circling around the back five as needed. He settled into right centre, and while it was far from his best position, he showed he could handle it. He’s already a proven performer on both wings and can handle the back as needed. As the elder statesman of the back five, his experience in rona season means he’s well placed to provide support as needed.

Of course this would require more than one change if Rapana is a starter (which at *this* stage it appears he is). It doesn’t strike me as a first choice solution, but it is a safe, and, importantly for this Raiders backline, proven one. By the time the Raiders are talking about Rapana at centre or fullback they’ve probably had a few other problems that needed fixing anyway.

I expect Rapana to start on the wing, and it’s always smarter footy to keep change to a minimum to build cohesion and connections. When the Raiders face an immediate issue, they should seek to to fill the gaps with the people that have been working in those positions. Rapana, for all his gifts, is hardly the best option to switch across to centre or fullback if that comes to pass. So let me reiterate – I don’t expect that it will come to this.

But if players don’t develop as they should, or if there’s an injury crisis (*crosses fingers*), a player like Jordy becomes just the tonic needed to fill gaps. It’s heartening to think that the Raiders can implement a solution that took them to the preliminary final as a backup plan to the backup plan.

It’s nice to have a safety valve.

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