The best Canberra Raiders related news in ages has been revealed by The Canberra Times (and first noticed by the Greenhouse) with the revelation that both Seb Kris and Xavier Savage are expected to put pen to paper on Tuesday to extend their time in lime green. (Update: This has now been confirmed by the club. Kris has signed on til end 2024, and Savage to end 2023). Both of these signings should give heart to Canberra fans about the future. Kris shows Canberra can still handle player management, and Savage shows they are still attracting the best talent. The Raiders may have had an awful 2021, but their roster is still managed well, and capable of delivering more in the future.
Seb Kris has been the only stable thing about the Canberra centres this year. While Jarrod Croker has suffered through a host of injuries, and Curtis Scott’s on-field performance was overwhelmed by his off-field exploits, Kris has been the quiet achiever. He’s proven an effective ball-runner, capable of breaking tackles (29, or 3rd most for the team), making metres and being an effective weapon on left side structured play. He’s most effective running hard lines off Jack Wighton or Elliott Whitehead’s shoulders, hitting gaps on the face ball. In some ways it’s an almost perfect switch with Whitehead in the red-zone – Kris runs the traditional power lines of a second rower, and Whitehead plays the creator. It’s resulted in five tries for Kris. If there’s been a weakness it’s that occasionally he’s been shown up in open-field defence, when players with more lateral agility have been able to put a move or two on Kris. But otherwise his defence has been solid and physical. If he gets contact, then usually it results in advantage Raiders. Kris’ versatility has helped establish himself as a consistent part of the top 17, having played on both sides of the field as well as second-rower (for 13 minutes before a head clash ruined his day).
It’s more than most would have reckoned before the season started. Kris spent 2020 away from the team on mental health leave. It’s not hard to be pleased that Kris has taken his trial and train contract and turned it into something more permanent. It’s a testament to the man how well he’s come back this season, to the extent that most consider him the ‘incumbent’ centre, with Croker, Scott, and Timoko fitting around him. It showed maturity and resilience to take last year off to take care of his mental health. It shows his depth of character that he’s managed to turn that into a permanent contract this year.
Xavier Savage is a different beast. He has as much talent as pace, and if it wasn’t for football he might be on his way to Tokyo right now. While he’s yet to really get a shot at the big time, it’s been known for ages that Savage is only a matter of time. He’s got work to do defensively, but when he has the ball in hand he uses his lethal pace and impressive agility to terrorise defenders. He may never be massive, but his rare mix of athletic skills will be perfectly suited to the modern role of the winger, and perhaps even fullback. So prodigious is his talent the temptation is to just get the ball in his hands and let him work.
His quick move from SG Ball, to NSW Cup, to first grade fringe in a matter of months only underscores just how precocious his talent is. It’s the kind of talent that doesn’t come to Canberra when established. Canberra has to find this talent before other teams identify it, and develop it themselves. That Savage is coming through so quickly shows not only is he likely an incredible footballer, but also that the Raiders have been taking the right steps in his development.
Both of these represent a win for a team and front office in desperate need of one. Presumably both come at a reasonable price, given their relative levels of experience. For Kris it’s a reminder that the Raiders can identify low-cost talent, as well as a reminder that despite recent man-management issues, the Raiders do have the capability to manage player welfare and mental health. Savage is a vote of confidence in the organisation, both in how they manage development, but also from the player himself. Things are bad right now, but Savage is betting they’ll get better, and quick.
It does raise a question about what the rostered backs will look like into the future. Jordan Rapana is off contract, Curtis Scott is in limbo and Jarrod Croker has been off and on the injury list all season. Lord knows what’s coming, but it’s clear the Raiders are prepared with the next generation.
It’s also a reminder that while everything that can go wrong has in 2021, the foundational base of Canberra’s roster management has remained effective and built for a sustainable future. 2021 sucks, but the horizon just got a little brighter.