Much has been made in recent days of the return of Ryan James. And rightly so; he’s overcome two-season ending injuries which robbed him off his prime. His return to first grade is remarkable achievement that is rightly being celebrated. But obscured by this accomplishment, and a series of other interesting decisions made for the Canberra Raiders first game of 2021, was another heartwarming story. Seb Kris had not only earned his way back into the Green Machine squad, but would be starting in place of the injured captain Jarrod Croker.
You might remember our piece from the off-season outlining how Kris had been tearing up the joint with his fitness. It was even a heartwarming story then; just the fact that Kris was back among the first grade squad was a matter for celebration given he had spent all of 2020 on leave from the club. The reasons Kris was away from the game were never given but whatever the reasons, it was hardly the easiest path to take. He walked away from the game for the whole season, and put his contract situation in balance. Even more, in doing so he put aside a chance to cement his position in the squad when an extended stay at the right centre position opened up with Curtis Scott’s injury and form struggles. This was even more exacerbated when talent like Harley Smith-Shields and Matt Timoko emerged at the end of last year, and the offseason. He went from next in line to training for his right to stay.
For some his appearance with the starting unit in the trial match may have been a surprise. Given he’d spent so much of his recent career away from the game, how were the Raiders certain he’d cut the mustard? However, since he returned to the squad in October last year there’s been nothing but positive news about his attitude and his condition. This culminated in Raiders’ physical conditioning boss Nigel Ashley-Jones singling out his fitness in early Janaury:
He [Kris] is killing it. Credit to himself and how he’s bounced back, and we’re excited about his 2021Nigel Ashley-Jones to raiders.com.au
Resilience is a trait we often associate with successful people, and one that we should value alongside kindness and collective strength as the best things about humanity. Kris had already displayed that in 2019, filling gaps in the Canberra line-up caused by injury to BJ Leilua, Michael Oldfield and Nic Cotric’s time in Origin. He proved tough as nails – he lost part of his tooth filling in at lock on debut and just shrugged. His defence felt solid and even-keeled, and there’s an argument if he was around in 2020 he would have got the minutes at right centre that eventually went to Jordan Rapana. And even after a year off, he was impressive in the trial match. showing a strong carry to go with his robust defence. If there’s a reason he’s starting this weekend, it’s because he earned it, with his defensive ability in limited outings in 2019, and with his willingness to work to earn the spot he gave up during 2020.
It’s not an easy task for Kris. Opposite him is the man who he backed up in 2019, one of the best centres of the game who’s in a contract year and the shape of his life (always beware when BJ gives up the burgers). He’ll spend most of the game trying to bring down an absolute monster, and given he’ll be joined on that edge by Bailey Simonsson, it’ll be quite the task. I suspect he was chosen because of all his options, Sticky thinks Kris is the most robust defensive choice. We’ll have more on that challenge in the Rumble later this week. In the meantime it’s worth celebrating Seb’s accomplishment alongside that of Ryan James. The Raiders were all about resilience in 2020. We just didn’t see Kris’s on our televisions.
It’s another challenge for Seb to face, but if his willingness to work his way back in to the top squad is anything to go by, he’ll face it head on. He has come so far to put himself in the best position to succeed in 2021. After a year out of the game, that should be applauded.
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