Raiders Recruitment Rumours

BY DAN

The Canberra Raiders are not going to sign Dylan Brown or Junior Paulo.

You may have seen a report floating around today from the Daily Telegraph that Canberra are trying to bring Dylan Brown and Junior Paulo to the Raiders from the beginning of 2023.

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s simply not happening. Neither of them are going to sacrifice playing for perennially top four side to come to Canberra. One of these has been identified as a huge part of Parramatta’s future for years, the other left Canberra already, and is probably the most significant target for retention for the Eels (outside of Brown). These are the kind of high profile recruits that do not leave big clubs for places like Canberra, no matter the salary offer. They can simply make more money, and live the life they want to in western Sydney, while playing for one of the biggest clubs in the competition. The Raiders may as well be making a play for Jesus and Lebron. Even more so, given the nature of reports it’s hard to work out if Canberra are, in fact, even interested. ‘Engaged in internal discussions’ also describes me and my wife trying to work out what takeaway to buy. Just because I looked at the delicious Belle’s Fried Chicken menu, that doesn’t mean we’re going to get it. Damn it.

I’m not hear to tell you it wouldn’t work or is not worth pursuing. Both are top notch players. Brown would be 22 at the start of this deal, entering what is likely his first big contract and a long career ahead to develop into. He’s full of upside, and has already proven himself a big part of the Eels recent success. He’s young, has plenty of upside potential, and whoever signs him next will get his best years. There is a concern about fit and rolling with two running halves. While there’s a fit in the sense that Brown tends to spend most of this time on the right, it’s clear someone would have to take on a more organising role. It’s hard to see Josh Hodgson still with the team by 2023, so even he may not be able to provide that from the dummy-half role. So either Jack or Dylan would need to develop that aspect of their game more. The report implies Sticky thinks he could build those skills in Brown, and to be honest, it seems like a better bet than Wighton.

The Raiders already know how handy Junior Paulo is, and in Vlandoball it’s only become more important to have middles that can bend the line to their will, as well as force extra tackles through offloads and create for others around them with handy ball play. Paulo would be 29 at the start of this deal, so anything substantial (say three years or so) would likely be the last big contract he gets. Right now though he operates in an environment that supports those skills, while providing a mobile pack to make sure he’s not worn out through the defensive pressure of set-restarts. In Canberra he becomes one of many big middles, and could exacerbate some of the worst aspects of the Raiders sometimes exhausted middle defence.

In fact the most telling aspect of this is what it says about the Raiders roster, or at least Stuart’s plan for it. It suggests that despite protests to the contrary, Canberra hasn’t worked out a plan for it’s next half. Given the Raiders currently have Sam Williams and Jack Wighton as their only rostered halves for 2022, this is worrying. That is saddening in the case of Brad Schneider, who is currently on an on-going training deal with almost zero noise about whether that will be extended beyond this year. Despite a brief Subloo earlier this year, he’s not been sighted again, despite the ongoing underwhelming performance of Canberra’s halves. Boss Don Furner said recently told the Raider Nick podcast the Milk are focused on developing young halves, which seems to not involve prioritising game time or an extension for Schneider. There may be a view that Josh Hodgson will move to seven next year, and I get it, but given his age it feels very temporary and not without risk. Given Canberra’s general disinterest in the halves market (and it’s wart-filled nature at the moment) It’s hard to see what the medium-term plan is beyond that if Schneider isn’t involved.

For Paulo it’s even more concerning. Forgive me for speculation, but the only way bringing more middles into an already crowded pack is if existing members depart. A player like Paulo requires more mobile middles around him, and the Raiders pack is jam-packed with bigger dudes. So if this report is accurate (an ‘if’ the size of my love for Gary Belcher) the worry is that Canberra are thinking replacement rather than compliment. We all know where the noise has been this year, and this pursuit now makes me wonder if the Milk are worried about players wanting out and looking for replacements.

In fact the ‘best case’ in this is that Canberra are strategically trying to drive up the value of Brown and Paulo, to ensure that the Eels pay for the full value of Brown’s potential, and ensure that the back-end of Paulo’s last big-money contract is every bit as inefficient as they can make it. Regardless, this kind of story that may sound good but is ultimately a futile search. If Canberra are pursuing this, it suggests Canberra doesn’t have a good plan to fill holes that currently exist, or may be on their way to existing in the future. I hope it’s nothing but scuttlebutt, because the alternative is an organisation that has been frayed by 2021’s turmoil, and doesn’t quite have a plan to bridge it’s current situation to its sustainable future.

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