Xavier Savage’s trajectory has been as rapid as him in the open field. He started this year in SG Ball, then quickly moved to NSW Cup. Now he’s been selected to start at fullback for this Thursday’s game. The challenge for him is massive, but his talent is unquestionable.
It will be a challenge for Savage. He’s only 19, and has barely been playing with adults for six months. Before the season started with thought he was an outside chance to play a role in the Raiders 2021 season, but we never thought it would be this much and this fast. He’ll be playing out of position in a sense. It’s not as though he hasn’t played much fullback – in fact he played that role a bit in NSW cup. But after playing mostly centre in SG Ball, and looking from the outside as best suited to the wing in the top grade, he’ll be walking into a position that has been proven critical to the Raiders success.
He’s somewhat on a hiding to nothing here. Instead of working on improving his defence in NSW Cup (where he’s missed 10 of the 33 tackles he’s attempted), he’ll be forced into a role organising the Canberra defence that has been rudderless since Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad was injured in round five. This is a major responsibility for one so young. More experienced players at the back have failed to get the positioning of the line right, let alone their own spacing behind it. That Savage probably needs to work on his one-on-one defence only makes the jump to the top grade more challenging. It reflects the state of the season that Canberra are giving this Herculean task to someone yet to establish themselves in first grade.
More generally the Raiders are asking Savage to walk into a side at it’s lowest point in years. I have no idea what that must be like (you’ll be shocked to hear your boy is not an elite athlete) but the weight of being held up as the future when the present is burning around you would be a lot to bear. An environment where something seems very *off* (see Joe Tapine’s hostage-style interview this week) is not conducive to nurturing developing talent. I hope the Raiders know what they are doing. It’s hardly the clear roles and experienced support we pitched as preconditions for introducing young players earlier in the week.
Despite my worry, if there’s a talent in the squad that can overcome these challenges it’s Savage. He introduces pace into a back five that has lots of stuff, but almost none of that. He brings agility into a role that can utilise that particular skill to great advantage, getting momentum through breaking tackles in exit sets, and bringing some goddamn spice to the most anodyne attacking structures in the competition. In short he’s a breath of fresh air in a season that has smelt like a dutch oven after a big night and a dodgy kebab.
Xavier Savage can’t solve all of Canberra’s problems though and we shouldn’t expect him to. He’s not the messiah, just a dude with plenty of talent and wheels so fast Tracy Chapman would sing a sad song about them. What he can provide though is a glimpse of the future offered to the Raiders if their game-plan and effort levels can match the quality of their roster management. I hope the young man kills it, because we’ll (hopefully) be cheering him for years. It may be a challenge, but he might also be up to it.