A mere six days after restoring the sanctity to the Canberra Raiders right edge against one of the most damaging runners in the game, Hudson Young will have to do it all again this Friday.
Last week he held David Fifita in relative check. The Titan had 150m on the ground but it took 19 carries to get there, an uncharacteristically inefficient outing for the young star. Fifita’s best moment – setting up the Gold Coast’s only try – came when he hit the gap to the other side of George Williams. Seb Kris and George got a clean double-shot on him, but such is the prodigy that he still got an arm free and all hell broke loose. In the meantime Young kept Fifita in the realms of a reasonable outcome, wearing him down over the game like Muhammad Ali wore down George Foreman (look at that hyperbolic and out of date reference. Top notch work Dan).
It was his third game of the season of nullifying an opposition strength. In round one he kept Luciano Leilua – quietly becoming one of the most dominant ball runners in the game – in check. In round two he helped keep a Sharks attack which is looking more slick and dangerous by the day (they’ve scored 8 tries in four games down the left this season, but that includes kicks and a game against the Cows, so you know, grain of salt and all that).
And now he faces possibly the most momentous task of the season. He, Seb Kris and George Williams will be tasked with stopping arguably the hottest left edge in rugby league. They scored five tries down that side of the field against Manly last week and have eight for the year. Jerome Luai is in the form of his career (and pushing for an origin spot), Brian To’o is proving himself an elite winger and while Stephen Crichton may be at fullback this week, Matt Burton has seamlessly slotted in for him so far.
Of course, the real challenge here is Villame Kikau. The thing about Kikau is he attacks more like an assassin than Fifita’s brawler. Kikau can seem to float through games, and he rarely has the repetitive power runs that Fifita or Leilua take during a game for big yardage. He’s already had multiple games this season with less than 10 carries in a game. Instead he waits for the perfect moment to strike, and then does so with such power and precision that it can be almost impossible to survive. For example, he may have had just 9 carries against the Silvertails last round, but it resulted in two tries, two line-breaks, six tackle breaks, and a line-break assist. That is incredible efficient work.
The Raiders have always had a challenge keeping Kikau in check. John Bateman, the man that Young is seeking to emulate, famously tussled with Kikau, being knocked out a game in Wagga in 2019, and being bested in this week’s corresponding fixture at Penrith last year. The Raiders found the line Kikau ran to stand up Bateman so memorable, they stole the set play it was based off to become part of their stable of left side options (and ran it on the Seb Kris try against the Sharks). To say Young (and Williams and Kris) are facing a challenge is an understatement. This may be their hardest test until the finals (presuming Canberra makes it *knocks wood cross fingers throws salt*).
I honestly don’t know if Young is up to it yet. Suggesting that at 22 he could form a crucial part of a defence that could corral the most damaging runners in the game is an almost unattainable bar to reach. But the fact that I’m musing about whether he can get it done says a lot. Young is talented and capable, and has a whole career ahead of him. This is his biggest challenge to date.
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