A Perfect Match

BY DAN

In further good news for the people’s rugby league team, the Canberra Raiders announced that Hudson Young has extended his time with the club until the end of 2024.

It was an intriguing process. The Raiders announced at the end of 2020 that they were targeting Young (amd Emre Guler) for extension. David Riccio of The Daily Telegraph reported a deal was done (to end 2023) on February 27. Hudson then came out and said that wasn’t the case. On March 4, David Polkinghorne of The Canberra Times then reported a deal was almost done, this time to end 2024. All the extra few days seems to have gained Young an extra year of money. A win for both sides in my view.

If you’ve read these pages you know I have a lot of time for Hudson Young, and have done so ever since he came on the seen. Even when he was suspended from the 2019 finals for eye-gouging I defended him. So let’s not pretend I’m necessarily a cold-hearted, impartial observer here. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong; this deal is evidence the Raiders think the same. John Bateman reckons he’s a future representative star, and I don’t think he’s wrong. That’s good company.

Young has so much talent. He’s a strong defender on either the edge or the middle, a barn-storming ball-runner with developing ball-skills. His fast feet in the line mean he’s often going to find his belly, and a quick play-the-ball, or occasionally much more. His motor means he’s one of the forwards that’s always sniffing around in support. This was evident in his work with Tom Starling last year. He runs strong lines and will be a weapon for the Raiders ball-players today and into the future. Watch him work of George Williams this year. I think it’s going to be beautiful.

More than just a weapon, Young is also a kind of wildcard that allows the Raiders to mix-and-match their playing style as needed. He can be used on an edge as a hard-running link between Williams and the wing, providing a clear role for Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad that was hard for him to find with the more manic powers of John Bateman. He can also be a fast-running middle, allowing the Milk to unleash a ‘small-ball’, pace-and-space approach by playing him alongside Joe Tapine and the slimmed-down Ryan James or Corey Harawira-Naera. We’ve long advocated for such an approach, and would love it to be used in short-spurts at the end of halves. Without Young’s mix of pace and power, such an approach isn’t possible.

Young is also insurance for the continued emphasis in the game to get “faster” (whatever that may mean). Peter V’Landys has made it clear that he wants to turn rugby league into touch footy, and this means Canberra needs to be prepared for an even greater need for speed. Young is the perfect player for that to occur. Right now he’s going to start at edge back row, but if the game gets faster, he may become more suited to the middle.

Players like Young will be at a premium in the future, and locking him up for another three years is smart future-proofing. His relationship with Tom Starling means that the “next generation” of Raiders is starting to take shape. When Hodgson’s time is done Canberra may have their replacement in the squad already learning from him. Similarly, Young (and Harry Rushton) show the Milk are prepared for a world in which Elliott Whitehead ends his career (for the record I’m not signing Smelly’s papers, just acknowledging he’s over 30).

A final win for the Raiders is the feather in the cap of Peter Mulholland’s recruitment and roster management this summer. The addition of Ryan James, the obvious potential of Rushton, and the mountain of emerging talent in the backline are all examples. But moreso, at the outset of this off-season the Raiders identified Emre Guler and Hudson Young as recruitment priorities. Then they went and signed them to extensions. I’ve no doubt other clubs were interested. But Sticky and Mulholland identified the talent they wanted to keep and went out and kept it. It’s a good sign about the place the club is in, particularly after the dramas around Bateman and Cotric last year.

Hudson Young could be a star of the future and it’s awesome that the Raiders are keeping him for longer. But more than being a very good player, he’s also a perfect match for the Green Machine, today and into the future.

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