The Starling Incident (again)


Urgh, that sinking off-season feeling again.

For the second time in 12 months Tom Starling has found himself in hot water with the NSW Police. Starling was this morning charged with threatening or causing injury to potential juror or witness and behaving in offensive manner in or near public place or school, according to Brent Read in the Australian.

As per usual with these incidents, we make no comment on his guilt or otherwise. There’s a legal process to play out, and after how things have gone for Canberra players with NSW Police, it would be a fool’s errand to speculate.

The timing of this incident is sub-optimal. Starling is just about to be given the keys to the Green Machine. Canberra have moved on (are moving on?) one of their best players of the last six years in order to put Starling in this position. He, and the club, are entering a critical off-season, which now has the stalking cloud of uncertainty hanging over it. It’s unfortunately a familiar feeling for the Milk, something they’ve carried every off-season since they made the grand final. Questions will again be asked about the Raiders club culture, and with a smaller involvement by much of the playing group’s previous leadership, there’s a need for new leaders to stand up.

For Starling it creates uncertainty around his ongoing extension negotiations. This is such a shame for the young man, who should be celebrating the financial and professional security that would come with a deal of this nature. Instead it’s delayed now, and questions will be asked about his off-field behaviour. We won’t know what the impact on that deal will be until the legal process plays out, but it’s safe to say it feels a lot less certain. At the very least one would suspect some standard behaviour clauses may be bolstered pending an outcome to the legal process. All this will no doubt slow down a deal from being imminent to something needing a more circumspect lens.

It also delays Josh Hodgson’s departure. The Raiders have no one else in the top 30 that should be playing as a fulltime hooker and so being able to hold on to a player of Josh Hodgson’s quality while awaiting the outcome of Starling’s legal situation would appeal to Canberra. I’m not convinced the Hodgson deal is derailed though. I suspect the bridge between him and Coach Stuart would need attending to by a whole team of tradesmen if they want to keep him next year. Still, stranger things have happened (for example, Australia losing the Emu War).

This incident should make the Raiders a bit more circumspect about how they proceed from here. It has laid bare just how exposed the Milk are should Starling cop an injury or something that keeps him out for games. A major focus of the last position available in their top 30 needs to be finding a backup hooker that can cover Starling’s six over the next 12 months while Adrian Trevilyan gets his sea legs again. There’s also a need to again ask the tough questions about how they best encourage positive behaviour by players in off-field environments.

This isn’t ideal. For now though, waiting until the legal process plays out is the only thing that can be done. This may be a mountain or a molehill. Only time will tell which.

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