When John Bateman announced he was leaving Canberra last year it felt like the proverbial rug had been pulled. Here was a player so central to the recent success of the side, the player who had put the spine in their spirit, suddenly departing to…go back to England? Was this the end of the Raiders window?
Bateman was such a transformative player for the Milk that it was hard to conclude otherwise (see for example, this idiot). His mere presence had turned the right-edge defence, the football equivalent of a french waiter falling in the kitchen, into an efficient war machine. How would the Milk find another player that could perform this role? Well, David Polkinghorne of the Canberra Times asked this week, and John’s response was eye-opening.
For those of you that have read these pages for a while, you’ll know our passion for Hudson Young blazes as hot as thousand suns (no I don’t mean that creepily…I think). His mobility, his motor, his defensive smarts and his potential as a Whitehead-style connection on the right side attack are all indicators of a long career. As we said last year:
Young is the best long term solution…The ability to play a creative and power role at the same time on offence, and the ability to be human white-out in defence is such a rare mix. Add to that his unbridled competitive nature and you’re not so much trying to develop someone to match [Bateman], but rather talking about fantasies of creating backrowers in labs.Me quoting me.
As the Daily Telegraph’s Nic Campton told an episode of NRL Boom Rookies lately, Young runs more traditional lines than Bateman, and this could lead to him being a better complement to Williams ball-play on that edge. It could unlock the Raiders attack on that side, allow Nicoll-Klokstad to perform a more normal role as a secondary ball-player on that edge. There’s a real shot this year that he and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad could make beautiful music together on the right hand side this year (picture this: Williams on the face ball to Young, a defender from each side of him comes to bring down Hudson, who flips a ball around the corner to a Nicoll-Klokstad who had been waiting out the back as the second man).
So yes I am about as bullish as a Minotaur on Young’s prospects, but even I was surprised at Bateman’s surety. Only the most optimistic projection of Young’s development would be brave to put him in the same stratosphere as Bateman. As David Polkinghorne noted in The Canberra Times’ piece Bateman was responding to, Young is currently in a battle for the right edge back-rower with Corey Harawira-Naera. While I have definite views about which one should start on the edge, the only thing that has opened that door in any realistic sense is Harawira-Naera’s legal issues. There’s simply no guarantee that Young keeps that spot when the Kiwi returns.
In addition, Hudson has proven effective in the middle, and given the continued emphasis of mobile middles (and my desire to unleash pace-and-space footy at the end of halves), he simply may not get much game time on the edge. He may become Canberra’s version of Cam Murray.
But I do think Hudson Young will find a way. While Young has already established himself as part of the starting 17, my expectations are much higher than merely existing in first grade. I’m ready for him to take a leap of sorts. But Bateman is looking much further than that. At the moment it feels so far away that it’s hardly worth getting caught up in. Young has along way to go. But with his workrate, and his ability, he could go just as far as Jonneh reckons.