The Canberra Raiders have started the process of filling the void left by the departures of Siliva Havili, Sia Soliola, Ryan James and Dunamis Lui by bringing Peter Hola to the club from the North Queensland Cowboys. This was first reported by David Riccio from the Daily Telegraph.
At face value the decision is about depth. So many middles have walked out the door in recent times and there will be a need to fill the gap. While there will be less minutes available for middles next season (assuming the Raiders stick to their publicly mentioned plan of play Josh Hodgson as a ball-playing middle), it’s more ensuring roster spots are filled with players capable of stepping in and playing 20-30 minutes if there’s an injury in the top line, or if Emre Guler and Corey Horsburgh do not find their feet next season. Hola has some first grade experience – though not much (12 games) – and is providing cheap depth that wouldn’t be playing much first grade under a “Plan A” scenario.
But there’s a bit more to this pick up than meets the eye. Hola comes highly touted from the Cowboys, and had signed a four year extension under the old North Queensland regime that saw Cows chief of footy Peter Parr claim he was one of the best young forwards in the game. He barely got a run last year in the top grade – suggesting the new bosses in Townsville didn’t see his value the same. But he’s only 22, suggesting that he’s not reached the peak of his powers. It’s smart and typical management by the Raiders to swoop in and get a distressed asset with upside they value more than the host team, particularly a young and relatively inexpensive one.
Some will be concerned that the Raiders are stuck in 2019. Hola is a massive dude (110kg and 190cm+ tall) which may lead people to think he’s not the kind of mobile forward that can succeed in V’Landysball. But Peter Mulholland sees him in the Joe Tapine mould, which would also suggest he’s more mobile than his size suggests. Hola is more than just a hard runner – his agility in combination with his power make him hard to get a clean hit on. He had 18 tackle breaks over 7 games of QCup footy, and averaged 60 post-contact metres a game (or approximately 44 per cent of the 130 plus metres he averaged a game, a greater proportion than Josh Papalii or Joe Tapine managed last year), suggesting that he’s the kind of runner that can bend a ruck to his will, and allow people like Jack Wighton or Tom Starling the space to run behind. Of course these are reserve grade numbers, but they suggest a player that may have more upside than the current administration in North Queensland realises.
I think the player that will be watching Hola over his should is Emre Guler. They seem similar style of player to me; neither have an offload (Hola only had 3 in 7 QCup games last season) and try to do their bit to fit into modern footy by getting between defenders with quick feet at the line and being hard to bring down. It also makes me think further about Don Furner’s concerns about losing Corey Horsburgh to the expansion team after next season.
For now though, Hola is now part of a strong set of middles, and with Adam Elliott, the Raiders have a full complement that presents them with a range of options to adapt their pack to suit their needs next season. Perhaps it doesn’t come with the names of the pack before 2020, but it does seem to have more options and more flexibility (and importantly, mobility) than it did before last season.