Embracing Risk

BY DAN

What appeared to be a thought bubble a few weeks back has become reality with the Canberra Raiders bringing Adam Elliott to town, as reported by Christian Nicolussi of the Sydney Morning Herald.

Recently we called this idea a risk. The Raiders would be taking a risk on a player who had flamed out of the worst team in the competition because of off-field issues. No one would question his talent, but his ability to get out of his own way is a problem he’s been unable to surmount. For a team that has spent 2021 with a similar affliction, lost two internationals and has two other players with potential suspensions hanging over their heads as a result, it is a high risk approach. You don’t fix a playing group’s problems with alcohol and behaviour by doubling down, but that’s just what Canberra has done. At some point the line between risk and desperation gets blurred. It’s not there yet, but it’s closer than I banked on the Milk being 12 months ago. What a horrible year.

Canberra have done their best to mitigate the risk. For starters he’s on next to no money – reportedly 200k a season, which is marginally above the minimum wage (120k for the 2022 season), a number more associated with fringe squad members than established first graders. They’ve given Elliott a one-warning system, which is great to say but we’ll see if it’s tested. I would have thought the ground would have been similarly laid for Corey Harawira-Naera but he added DUI to his rap sheet last offseason and kept his spot. I’m not suggesting Harawira-Naera should have been fired, but rather expressing that expecting people with acknowledged behavioural issues to turn around on the spot and be perfect may not be a sustainable approach. In the end though, that’s kinda the point.

The risk isn’t on the field. I think Elliott will play middle for the Raiders and he’ll be a solid addition. He’s spent much more time there in recent years for the Dogs, and that’s where the area of greatest need is for the Milk. With Josh Hodgson moving on, suddenly there’s plenty of minutes at 13 that will need to be filled, and Elliott can handle minutes there. He’s mobile enough to manage a faster pace. He also has underrated passing, able to operate as a link man across the middle as well as create for edge forwards. His defensive is physical enough, and he’s fit enough, to manage the defensive requirements the set-restart rule requires.

He’ll be a well-suited addition to the 13 role that he would share with whoever misses out on the edge backrower position between Hudson Young, Corey Harawira-Naera and Elliott Whitehead. Given Young’s performance last year and potential going forward, and Whitehead’s role a defensive support for Jamal Fogarty (and Harawira-Naera’s inconsistent ability in that regard) at this stage I would suspect that would be the Kiwi international. Two 13s able to take tough runs, offload, and create for those around them will be two more than the Raiders have employed in recent years. It hopefully adds another dimension to Canberra’s attack that will need more creativity through the middle third with Hodgson being summarily executed leaving.

This clears up the middle rotation. Papalii, Tapine and Sutton covering the majority of the minutes at ‘prop’, with Horsburg and Guler in support. Peter Hola, Trey Mooney and Harry Rushton will also be pushing for minutes. It’s a more clearly stratified pack that the start of last year. It seems clear who are the first choice, and who are pushing for spots. Given Coach Stuart never settled on a pack to match his style at all in 2021, perhaps this clearer depth chart will make his choice pathway clearer.

Regardless of the on-field suitability, adding another character issue feels like test for the Green Machine’s fragile cultural eco-system. As recently as early this year I was sure that Coach Stuart had the pieces in place to keep the team on the relative straight and narrow. But 2021 hasn’t supported this thesis, as Stuart alienated many of the people he was relying on to police the locker-room. In the meantime the Milk have been plagued by unrest, and misbehaviour. Here’s hoping Stuart has done the leg work to identify a new set of leaders, outlining clear sets of expectations, and establishing a more sustainable culture, because that will be as important in holding Elliott (and others) accountable, and ensuring his success both personally and within the team environment, as Elliott’s purported personal growth.

It be a challenge, and a risk, but it seems it’s one the Milk feel is necessary to re-establish themselves as a force. There’s logic to it – and the potential downsides are outweighed by the minuscule financial outlay and the potential on-field benefits. It’s definitely a line-ball call, but this is why people other than me get paid any money whatsoever the big bucks. Roll the dice my friends.

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