Semi extension.

BY DAN

More good news came out of Raiders HQ this morning, with the club announcing the extension of Semi Valemei’s time in Canberra by three more years.

It’s part of a recent trend by list manager Peter Mulholland of locking up Canberra’s future. Hudson Young, Emre Guler and Corey Horsburgh were extended over the offseason. Sebastian Kris and Xavier Savage this week. Semi is just the latest in this trend. We again note that Harley Smith-Shields and Brad Schneider remain unsigned for 2022, but there’s nothing (yet) to suggest there’s any reason to panic on either front.

This set of players is the next generation of Raiders stars, and part of a transition from the old guard moving towards the end of their careers. As we said yesterday it shows intelligent roster management from the Milk, essential to future proofing a sustainable roster. There’s a bevy of talented young backs ready to take over now, and it means the roles of players like Jarrod Croker and Jordan Rapana will be smaller in the future. Indeed, with Rapana off contract it will be interesting to see if he’s even in Canberra next year. Sunrise, sunset. Cats in the cradle with the silver spoon. Yes, we have no bananas.

Semi is a critical part of this. He’s a powerful runner, and does critical work in yardage, averaging 120 metres on the ground in his four first grade outings this season. He’s quicker than people realise – borrowing a similar running style to Ken Nagas. The only way you know he’s in fifth gear is that is pulling away from the chase. He’s also shown a keen nose for the try line and solid finishing skills, and has improved his hands more generally, particularly when it comes to the high kicks that invariably come his way.

There isn’t a player in this emerging cohort whose areas for improvement are more clear. Valemei spent 2020 developing in front of our eyes. An injury crisis and coronavirus meant the normal process of learning in NSW Cup footy was eschewed in favour of building the plane in the air. As has been noted repeatedly in recent times, he’s struggled with the high ball, and teams have focused on kicking that way to him to press this advantage, as well as limiting the damage he can do in yardage. This is a critical learning point for Valemei: this will continue until he’s safe under kicks, and given the strength of his exit set carries, may never totally dissipate. He’ll need to get used to it. Similar his defensive decision making has been inconsistent, and there were occasions in 2020 where he made errors.

But in his short stint in first grade this year it already feels like he’s making improvements in those areas. While he hasn’t looked stable under the high ball, he hasn’t been a weakness. He’s continued to find yardage, and show excellent finishing ability. And more than once he’s shut down attacking movements with aggression jamming in from the edge. It’s everything you want from a developing winger, and there’s upside to burn.

Three years on top of this year reflects that, and it gives more time for Canberra to work with Semi to reach his potential. Chances are it’s a relatively team friendly deal, and represents the Raiders low-cost approach to filling out the back five with young talent while they continue their search for an elite half. It’s a very sustainable approach. Right now they have a back five that has the potential to be elite without breaking the bank. It’s a good place to be, and further proof that while 2020 hasn’t gone right on the field, it’s working fine off it.

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