Clean Air for Scott

BY DAN

Imagine being on a night out with the boys, having a few too many (I know it’s hard to picture, but some of us have been there), not quite being in a state to wander home, and waking up in handcuffs. Then they tell you you’ve been charged with seven different versions of assault of a police officer. Not only could your promising and privileged rugby league career be over, but also you could be going to the big house for a big while.

It’s fair to say Curtis Scott had a bit on his mind last year. That saga has finally ended for the young man, with him being awarded $100,000 in compensation from the police. Clear air is now all in front of him, and a chance to fulfil the promise that has always lay ahead of him. Scott himself told the Canberra Weekly:

It’s been a clean slate this year and I’ve just been able to focus on myself and focus on playing football. I’m much happier and I feel like I’m a better person from what’s happened.

Curtis Scott to Canberra Weekly

Scott came to Canberra to some people’s surprise. A legitimate, if unfulfilled, talent, he represented something of a coup for the Milk. Here was the little guy taking some up-and-coming talent from a big club. Half an eye was cocked, if only on the basis that if Bellyache wasn’t interested then what was the deal? But it was still pleasing, still representing a new era for the Raiders, one in which they were a legitimate destination for onshore talent. Instead of finding talent in overlooked places Canberra proved capable of just doing what everyone else did and taking from each other. It was a string in the bow they hadn’t had since…ever?

Scott’s arrest and the threat it gave to his livelihood and freedom didn’t have an immediate impact. He seemed to be building a long-term combination with Nic Cotric before coronavirus interrupted. He was running was like a Labrador puppy. Arms and legs akimbo but with a remarkable heft despite his relatively normal-looking body. Getting the ball from George Williams wasn’t smooth – at the time we speculated it was a matter of spacing rather than lack of effort or desire. Defensively he was aggressive, and while it didn’t feel stable, over three games the makeshift right edge held itself together against the Titans, Warriors and Storm. It was a work in progress, and progress was being made.

If we can point to a point it seemed to all fall apart it would be in round 4 when Bradman Best strolled over on the weak-side of a scrum in Raiders territory. Kalyn Ponga got the ball two wide off the back of the scrum and came towards that edge. Scott didn’t really push up and in, and he didn’t really stay out on his man. He barely got off his line. Best scored the easiest of tries, and it seemed like the moment just sapped all the confidence out of Scott. You can see it in the first minute of this package.

The change was so dramatic from pre and post Covid it was hard to not think that the time off hadn’t been helpful in how he processed what he was going through. Suddenly all eyes were on Scott. He became the focus of the ire of fans expecting perfection from the get go. Similarly, the Raiders makeshift right edge became the focal point of opposition attack. Scott became the fall guy for an imperfect combination of edge defenders trying to cover for a middle that was initially struggling to adapt to the new rules, and then to a lack of personnel. Centres are so often forced to make impossible decisions in defence. Damned if they do and damned if they don’t, they’re the ones that earn the dreaded ‘try-cause’ statistic when it was an overwhelmed middle, an outpaced or outmuscled half, necessitate a “Sophie’s Choice”.

Scott raked up the negative stats (8 try causes across limited appearances) and a cacophony of noise built around him. Whereas he may have been given the benefit of the doubt at literally any other time, any goodwill had been stripped from him by the police on Australia Day. While he was effective with the ball (he had 100 plus metres in rounds 4-6), his defensive efforts, and a middling performance from the side, increased the noise. That whole period felt like the sword of Damocles was dangling above his head. Coach Stuart finally brought it down, sending Scott to the bench for round 8. A mid-season return was less of a maelstrom, but an injury to his leg ended his season after a few games back in the starting line up. It was a quiet ending to what that had to that point been a loud failure.

Despite enduring a horrible 2020, many are still backing Scott to turn his luck around in 2021. This is largely a narrative based assumption that 2020’s performance has to be seen with the context of his ongoing legal dramas. He seemed to be under a weight the whole year, and while the police case eventually fell apart, Scott still spent the majority of the year unsure if he’d be playing footy in 2021, or in jail. I can’t imagine the stress that it caused him, and there’s no doubt it contributed to his underperformance. All that Scott needs is some clean air and time on the field and he’ll succeed right?

I’m not saying this won’t happen but I don’t think this should be treated as inevitable, or a small achievement. Given what he went through treating as a given understates what an achievement it will be for Scott to fulfil his potential, should he do so in 2021. We shouldn’t expect him to revel just because he experienced a trauma. If Scott is simply to return to first grade and be a stable success this should be seen as a remarkable feat.

The good news is that Scott can get there and go further. All indications are that he’ll get first shot at the right centre spot. He’ll have a new partner on that wing, and with Hudson Young’s reliable approach at right-edge forward, hopefully he’ll get some time to build cohesive edge with them. His defensive error rate is hopefully supported by a middle more prepared (and better staffed) for the challenge of V’Landys’ NRL. This puts a massive burden on middle forwards to defend for long periods of time due to both the set restart rule, and the increasing move towards one-out footy (see this from the Rugby League Eye Test); instead of chasing the changes like everyone in 2020, the Milk are well prepared. He and Williams will get re-acquainted, and he can unleash the high-powered Labrador gait, hopefully with a bit more space than he was offered in his limited appearances in 2020. The arrow is pointed up.

It’s a stark contrast to the same time last year. Scott now has all the opportunity in the world, a career ahead of him and the talent to match. Here’s hoping he enjoys the fresh air.

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