Xavier Savage got uh, savaged, on his first few carries on last round. He weighs 90 odd kilos according to his official profile, which means even with a 2L coke in his hands he still weighs less than Jarrod Croker. So it’s no surprise he took a bit of physical punishment in his first shot at the big time. He’s only 19, and probably still growing. He’ll get bigger and hopefully not lose his pace. But this story isn’t about Xavier.
After this occurred a couple of times it became clear that Manly were targeting Savage, looking to knock his stuffing out to remove him from the game. This would have a two-fold affect. First it would reduce his immediate impact, potentially reducing his willingness to do what he does best – carry the ball, get between defenders and put together game changing plays. It would also make every following tackle start in a disadvantageous position for the Raiders. Beyond the material, it could have had serious ramifications for the debutant’s confidence. It was a test.
In times like this the foibles of a team culture and leadership show through. It’s a small moment, but it’s revealing of a willingness of the rest of the team to look out for others. To work for their mates. Bad things happen when we separate people into disconnected individuals. In a team, as in society, we are strongest when we lift each other.
Jordan Rapana took it upon himself to make sure that Xavier Savage was lifted. Almost every hit up Savage took after about the 10th minute, Rapana was there, either pushing at his back, or even tearing him through tackles to make sure he could fall on his belly and earn a quick ruck. One time mid-way through the first half the Sea-Eagles got in a position to strip Savage after a tough yardage carry. Rapana basically held the ball Savage’s hands for him. On other occasions he made himself available to take tough kick returns, and late, when Savage had a cramp, it was Rapana that moved to the back to cover for him.
These are just bits, and something that should really just happen in a good side. I don’t want to pretend this is something more than it is. Jordy looking after Xavier is the bare minimum of what should happening for a team pulling in the same direction. But it was pleasing to see an elder statesmen take a young player under his wing, spending effort and energy on making sure the next generation was shown the way forward.
It’s important moments like this are recognised, both within the club and from the outside. These are norms that the club wants to model, for immediate success but also so they are passed on to the next generation. Rapana is off contract, and for all I know may not be with the club next year. Sia Soliola seems to be close to the end of his career, if not at the precipice of retirement. Rumours are Ryan James may leave for Brisbane, as may Josh Hodgson. We’re all watching Jarrod Croker to see what’s next. Generational change is coming, and after all that’s gone this is year it’s fair to wonder if the Milk are prepared culturally. The roster is sorted – we’ve made that point repeatedly – but that roster needs more than names to succeed.
Rapana showed Savage that at Canberra, the experienced players look after the young guys. It’s not the first time Rapana has modelled this behaviour. Matt Timoko has noted that Jordy has been in his ear whenever he’s played this year. This will only be more important as the team moves into a bubble system. The prevailing norms will only be exacerbated and reinforced when there’s no outside outlet or influence.
A lot has been made this season about the fractured Canberra Raiders playing group. Let’s not pretend much of what has been public suggest behaviour that should always be emulated. But small things are important too.