Starling’s Status

BY DAN

A bit of noise emerged over the weekend about other teams’ interest in snaring Tom Starling out from underneath the Raiders’ chaotic wings. Initially reported by the esteemed David Polkinghorne from The Canberra Times, it set hearts aflutter in the nations capital, but nothing that emerged so far should lead anyone to the think Starling will leave Canberra.

The news is likely a negotiation tactic. Starling is in the midst of renegotiating his current deal with the Raiders. This deal is meant to take him through to the end of next season, but a clause in the deal allows him to renegotiate his deal based on playing a certain percentage of games. Irrespectively, Canberra has been seeking to extend him beyond the life of his current deal (ending 2022) to ensure his longevity at the Milk.

Of course, other teams are in interested in Starling. He’s young and he’s talented, and has plenty to suggest he can be an effective hooker for a long number of years. He’s quick, and Vlandoball or no, will be able to utilise that weapon – in fact its arguable that he’d be more effective without V’Landys’ poorly thought-out monstrosities rule changes. Damian Cook was far more successful when his ability to take small spaces and make them seem big was unique (he had 18 try assists in 2019, he’s had about that much since. Now the space is everywhere so teams just fling it wide and let bigger, faster edges wreak havoc. It’s nice if you like things like homogeneity and bland food.

These teams are no doubt circling, but more out of due diligence than anything. Most teams want Tom, but given he’s locked down for next year, it would require a big bet to get him. The Dragons, Broncos and Parramatta are the teams listed, and you can already rule out the Eels. The idea that Starling would leave his tandem role at Canberra to become the second-wheel at Parramatta is farcical. The Dragons are currently being run into the ground by Hook Griffin, who would likely handcuff Starling like he’s done to Matt Dufty (if you read these pages you know I’m not a Dufty fan, but Griffin is keen on stopping Dufty doing what he does well for some reason) and put him in a platoon with the husk of Andrew McCullough. The Broncos would be a great fit for him, allowing him to outsource the creativity to Adam Reynolds, and to be honest that’s the only club I’d have any worry about. While most teams would need to go beyond what Canberra offers to get Starling, Brisbane could get him for the same, if not marginally less, and let him grow fat off the benefits of being a starter in the biggest rugby league market around.

But this information is unlikely to have come from these clubs, and is more about Starling’s management making sure the Raiders meet them at a price point that makes Tom happy. We’ve already seen the public discussion about the length of the extension change since this information leaked – from a one year deal to end 2023, to a two-year extension to end 2024. Dropping the information that other teams are interested is more about getting Canberra to budge, and while they’ve done so on length, I suspect it may be required on money too.

We saw this play out in the wrong direction with Nic Cotric and John Bateman, so it’s not certain that the Raiders will move in the direction to the extent that Tom, or his management want. After all, this is the dance of negotiation. Indeed, in the Polkinghorne article the Raiders note they are also looking to promote Adrian Trevilyn to a full-time training contract, a public reminder to Starling that he’s not the only talented emerging rake on the roster. I doubt this is a shot across the bow so to speak, but like the leak that other teams are interested, is more about establishing with the other party that they can walk away if needs be.

But i doubt that is happening. That the Green Machine are negotiating this deal at all – and not one with Josh Hodgson – should tell you all you need to know about what they think the future of their hooker spot is. A two-year deal, two-years beyond Hodgson’s contracted time with the club, is a strong signal to everyone involved. Canberra are locking-down Starling before they work out what to do with Hodgson (and likely a few other established players like Dunamis Lui, Siliva Havili and possibly even Jordan Rapana). I am possibly this man’s biggest fan, but Peter Mulholland has again shown he’s building a sustainable roster capable of proving 2021 the anomaly, rather than the previous two-years.

It’s a tightrope, and Canberra have fallen off in similarly high-stakes situations before, but right now there’s little to suggest Tom Starling won’t be in Canberra for years to come. This noise is just that.

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