Goodbye Siliva

BY DAN

The Daily Telegraph reported on Friday that Siliva Havili would be leaving Canberra for the South Sydney Rabbitohs. It ends what has been an undervalued career at the Milk. The King of Tonga brought utility, energy and commitment to a side that desperately needed it. The choices of the Raiders hierarchy meant he had to find a new home, and it’s sad won’t be with the Raiders going forward.

Siliva came to Canberra to save the Milk’s 2018 season when Josh Hodgson’s ACL was destroyed playing international footy after the 2017 season. The Raiders were trying to find a way back to relevance after 2016’s promise had descended into 2017’s frustration. Without Hodgson 2018 was going to be similarly hampered, especially considering the side had let Hodgson’s backup Kurt Baptiste walk out the door mere days before Englishman’s injury. The Raiders picked up Havili and Craig Garvey to fill the vacuum.

These were both astute pick ups (presumably by Peter Mulholland) but unfortunately Sticky didn’t see it that way, instead shoe-horning Aidan Sezer into playing major minutes at hooker because I dunno, he hated him? There’s an argument that this was as much preparing Havili’s body for the match fitness required to play a full set of minutes in the top level – he’d not spent much time in the top grade in his previous stop at the Dragons. As we described his performance in a painful round one loss where the Raiders gave up a 16 point lead helmed by Havili:

The Raiders shot out of the blocks in this game because they dominated around the ruck. They controlled the ruck because Siliva Havili was excellent early and the forwards followed him…It was a brilliant start from the new rake, and all the more confusing when he went off after around 25 minutes and was barely seen again. He was clearly tired – he’d been trailing sets since about 17 minutes, but to sit him for the next 50 minutes was an error.

After round three we were getting a bit cranky.

The play of Siliva Havili continues to impress, almost as much as Sticky’s unwillingness to play him rankles. His service improves with every game and his defence in the middle is physical. He’s a willing kicker and his decisions to run the ball are excellent, like when scored the Raiders first through a well-made run out of dummy-half. He should play as many minutes as he is capable. That he won’t is a poor reflection on Stuart.

The Raiders stumbled to one of the most painful 0-4 slumps while Sticky failed to adjust. It’s never been his strength hey?

The more time he played, the better Canberra looked. And even when Hodgson returned he maintained a role playing as a middle forward and supporting around the ruck. Over the last few years Hodgson has been happiest jumping out of nine when there was someone to put into space. Almost exclusively the person that would go with him, working off his shoulder, was Havili. He may not have had the same skills as Hodgson, but they saw the same game and worked effectively as a tandem.

Given how Hodgson played to end the 2018 season, one might have thought Havili’s time in Canberra would have been over, but his success in a variety of roles lead to a two year extension. This was a recognition of his utility in roles, and his lack of ego about performing them.

It was the start of something beautiful. I’ve never met a Raiders fan that had a bad thing to say about ‘Liva, and as he established himself as a permanent first grader over 2018 and 2019 we couldn’t have been happier. I say this without exaggeration, but watching him lead the Sipi Tau for Tonga against New Zealand at the end of 2019 still makes my spine tingle.

Another injury to Hodgson in 2020 changed Havili’s role again. He was providing valuable opening minutes at hooker as Tom Starling’s shield, before shifting to the middle in support. It was the best use of Havili. He was playing significant minutes, utilising all of his strengths, and flourishing. When 2021 rolled around though Hodgson came back and Havili had less opportunities. Coach Stuart still tried to utilise him – playing him as part of the middle rotation and even (mis)using him as an edge backrower when the Raiders suffered comically unfortunate injuries early in the season (such as in the Warriors game). The minutes dried up with Starling and Hodgson playing more together, and unfortunately it became clear long ago that Havili was unlikely to be re-signed by the club.

It’s part of what is quickly being deemed a ‘clean out’ of Raiders HQ, and Havili has been identified as surplus to requirements going forward. The Raiders will be carrying Josh Hodgson and Tom Starling as their first choice hooking rotation over the next twelve months (though I suspect Hodgson will moved on if he finds a new deal before his current one expires). Adrian Trevilyn has been identified as the generation beyond that, and with a few years of cup footy will begin to push Starling for minutes. There’s little space for Havili to get a shot at that position in the short or medium term. His utility value is only useful if he’s the second hooker – we saw how well it went when Canberra idiotically courageously took three hookers into several games early this season. It simply isn’t a balanced roster.

That’s not to say Havili’s utility value won’t suit other teams. Clearly the Bunnies see value in using him as a backup to Damian Cook, as well as a bowling ball of energy as a middle off the bench. Despite Adam Reynolds moving on this season, Havili will be joining a team that is much closer to contending that Canberra is. So I’m glad for him. He’s going to a better place, one that will hopefully use him to suit his needs, rather than covering for theirs.

Saliva was a valued member of the Raiders, though perhaps not as valued as he should have been. The King of Tonga is heading north now, and hopefully he’s rewarded with game time and success. We wish him all the best.

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