Since the departure of George Williams, the Canberra Raiders have been linked with more sevens than a dice game. Luke Brooks, Mitchell Pearce, Ash Taylor, Gareth Widdop and Dylan Brown are all names that have been thrown up.
The one name yet to be mentioned by anyone associated with the club is Chanel Harris-Tavita.
Partly this is because Harris-Tavita isn’t technically free to be bought. Like Pearce, Brooks and Brown, he’s a player that’s technically clubbed, at least for the next few weeks. The Raiders have been playing the waiting game on a few names who are theoretically contracted recently, most notably Brown. This has given room for speculation to occur, but little for the Milk to do other than wait for their home squads to either cut them loose, or for November 1 to roll around before they can make an offer. The waiting game, and presumably a bit of spare cash burning a hole in their pocket has made them ripe for speculators and the player agents keen to maximise a pay packet.
In that environment it seems interest in Harris-Tavita is more being driven by Raiders Twitter and group chats. The Milk have been forthright about who they are interested in at various points this season, confirming interest in Gareth Widdop, Ash Taylor and Dylan Brown and not rejecting claims that they were similarly keen on seeing how the Pearce or Brooks situations played out (leading to the comical discussion of the Hodgson/Wighton package for Luke Brooks and I forget who else because I was too busy laughing). But despite Harris-Tavita’s pronouncement earlier this month that he’d be testing the market, and the Warriors open flirtation with Ash Taylor’s bung hip, no one at Raiders HQ has (publicly) twigged to the possibility.
Which is a shame in my view. Harris-Tavita is a developing ball-player, capable of engaging the line and creating in tight spaces – both talents strangely lacking in the Milk’s halves this year. He’s hardly a star – two try assist in a season will tend to hamper one’s ascension (though he had six last year, which is more than Dylan Brown has had ay any point in his equally young career).
His change of pace close to the line – as highlighted by Jason Oliver of rugbyleaguewriters.com – is a growing weapon in creating doubt in defenders’ minds and creating space for runners. He’s not an ‘organising half’ but he’s not a full-blooded ‘running only’ half that Jack Wighton can be on his worst days. I see him more akin to George Williams in that regard – capable of more, and young enough to learn the ropes of that aspect of the game. Besides, Canberra have shown a willingness to abandon their stated desire for an organising half when they thought the talent was right (e.g. the Dylan Brown chase).
If you want to read more about Harris-Tavita you absolutely must read this from rugbyleaguewriters.com. I again urge you to subscribe to them. It’s the best tactical writing you’ll get in your inbox for only five dollarydoos a month. Not an ad just a fanboy.
Harris-Tavita is hardly a fully-formed player but there’s plenty to like about what is developing. He’s already a solid defender, which for a young half is almost a weapon. If the Raiders want to play Corey Harawira-Naera on an edge then that’s a necessity in recruitment. It’s not that Harawira-Naera is a bad defender – though sometimes he is – but rather that he’s not the human-whiteout that Bateman was, and Whitehead has been (though less so this year). Stout defence at seven would also free up the Milk to be more creative in how they use Josh Hodgson and Tom Starling. In 2021 that so often wore out Canberra, as attackers had three small defenders in the line they could target. Just reducing that by one will lessen the defensive load on the big men, and hopefully free them up for more attacking effort.
The other exciting aspect of Harris-Tavita is his youth. At just 22 he offers all the upside without needing to pay full value for it. As we’ve said he’ll continue to develop, and will add parts to his game that the Raiders need. His youth should also reduce one’s concern about his only downside – his history of injuries. Young bodies take time to develop resilience, particularly in adjusting to top level footy with professional athletes. Proper management and more time to develop into his ‘adult’ body might see that perception go away. Indeed that history might be what gets Canberra in the door – as other clubs deem it too much of a risk, it opens the Milk to be the knight in shining armour, trotting in with a friendly deal to give Harris-Tavita a future.
[This is the bit where I make a crack about “if supercoach Nathan Brown wants out on a player then he must be good ha ha how’s Tom Starling going hey” before I remember it was him that recommended Josh Hodgson to Sticky initially and I shut my mouth.]
The Raiders also have a good history bringing Kiwis and Kiwi internationals to Canberra and making them feel at home. There’s plenty in the squad now – Joey Taps, Charnze, Harawira-Naera, Rapana, Bailey, Sia, Timoko to name a few. There’s nothing like a friendly eye and a network to help you settle into a new home. I’m not saying it’s the only reason he would come, or fit in, but it’s hardly a detriment. Plus with Charnze, Corey, and big Papa, there’s a real chance that the Green Machine could have four dudes with the most glorious locks in the competition (should they be convinced to grow them out).
Harris-Tavita is exactly the kind of player the Raiders should be chasing. He’s not even touched the sides of his potential and seems undervalued by his home club. Canberra would in all likelihood be paying overs for what he is now, and banking that he makes up the difference in the out years of the deal. Like Brown he’s all upside, just without the hefty bill that it would take to bring the Parramatta man to town.
For their part the Warriors have consistently suggested Harris-Tavita is a part of their future. Bringing in Taylor and Shaun Johnson, keeping Kodi Nikorima, and sending Sean O’Sullivan packing just muddies those waters. The Warriors may like to keep the young star, but by committing to three other players who would hope to be in a first choice 17 it does create enough instability that Canberra may be able to make a play.
Yet despite all this, Harris-Tavita remains mysteriously unidentified by the Raiders. I can only assume the mix of him technically not being available yet, his lack of history as an organiser and that injury history have kept him from being front of mind in Braddon. Canberra should reconsider.
Now might be the exact time to snare themselves a future