As you are no doubt aware, Xavier Savage and Sebastian Kris signed contracts on Tuesday to extend their times in Canberra.
If you read these pages – specifically this, this, and this – you know our feelings more generally on this. But quickly, we see it as a good bet on the talent of both. Kris has proven a solid first grader with good utility value to cover both sides of the pitch. He’s a resilient person who’s overcome personal mental health struggles, backed himself to win a spot with hard work and dedication, and been the most stable addition to the Canberra top 17 this year. Savage is all talent and promise, and while his defence probably isn’t at first grade level just yet, the expansion of offensive opportunities that would be brought just by his presence would be massive.
We also think this is a massive win for the front office. Convincing the uber talented Savage to stay in Canberra – while he was in all likelihood fielding offers and interest from elsewhere – is a vote of confidence in the development approach they’ve been taking. And Kris’ signature, as well as his success in 2021, is proof that Canberra’s welfare approach is not broken, and is capable of ensuring players are appropriately supported to succeed both as people and as players.
I wanted to also touch on the length of contracts and what means.
Kris has signed a three year deal, keeping him in Canberra until the end of 2024. While many might look at his performance in 2021 and wonder if it deserves such a substantial bet, it seems like a smart move, assuming it’s a relatively team friendly deal. These kinds of low-cost players providing vital depth and competition are key to building good rosters. Kris’s versatility (able to cover centres and backrow) and his motor, are suited to the modern game, and his resilience and diligence should provide succor that he will reach whatever his potential is over the life of that deal. His defensive agility will likely be addressed, and while he may never be an all-star, he’ll remain a solid roster member of the life of the deal, providing financial flexibility to lock up other talent while maximising the value of his own cost.
For Savage, it’s a recognition that his trajectory is rapid. He’s gone from SG Ball to NSW Cup to fringe first grader quicker than I eat a box of BBQ shapes. In a brief foray into first grade he didn’t look out of place (though, let’s not get carried away with one run and no tackles. He adds serious pace to the backline, and his agility makes him almost impossible to get a clean lick on. If he continues at this pace he’ll be pushing for a first grade place next year, and aiming to be an established regular by 2023. A two-year deal means the Raiders will be looking to contract him again from after the 2022 season, and by that stage both parties will have a very good idea of what they’ll be paying for. By this stage Savage may well be worth serious money, and Canberra’s cap position and priorities will be a lot clearer than they are now.
This, of course, is not the only talent coming through that Canberra will need to lock up. The remaining off-contract player that most will be watching closely here is Harley Smith-Shields. He would have played first grade this year in all likelihood if not for a ruptured bicep. The Raiders are reportedly in discussions, and it would be another victory for the front office if they were able to lock him up for 2-3 years. There’s plenty of other decisions coming too with Elijah Anderson, Albert Hopoate, Trey Mooney, Clay Webb, Brad Schneider and Semi Valemei all without contracts next year (based on this and this).
The Raiders will use this movement to bridge the transition between the Croker/Hodgson/Soliola/Rapana era and the new talent. Jack Wighton, Josh Papalii and Elliott Whitehead appear to be the remaining leadership to provide the structural support for this movement. The transition won’t be smooth, it never is, but it’s clear the Raiders have plan they are working towards. The competent roster management is consistent with, and a testament to, Peter Mulholland and Coach Stuart’s sustainable approach. While 2021 hasn’t been what was hoped, the side is set up for future success, and these two signatures will contribute to that.