The Canberra Raiders 2021 season didn’t work out the way anyone wanted. Over the next few months we’re going to look at some key issues the Raiders need to sort out and the players that represent them. Welcome to the “We need to talk about” series. This is part II. You can read part I on Corey Horsburgh here.
When Emre Guler entered the fray in 2018 the world was a different place. The Raiders had just watched Shannon Boyd walk out the door, along with Junior Paulo, and endured one of the most frustrating seasons in recent memory. They had taken a different tack, starting the shift to a smaller pack because (as I noted in the season review), their middle defence had been worn down with fatigue. As a result their edges had been forced into impossible decisions and the Canberra defence suffered.
Ok maybe the world wasn’t so different.
At the time we’d made the pitch that this didn’t mean Emre wasn’t going to be an integral part of the Milk for the foreseeable future. Yes he was big and he’d never be a big minute man, but he had sufficient work-rate in defence, and quick feet in attack, to make it work in a more mobile pack. He’d proven as much in a short stint in 2018, and it felt like perhaps big things were ahead of the big man. He parlayed that into a regular part of the Raiders rotation in 2019 and played a role of the bench in the grand final. It seemed like big things were ahead of the young man.
2020 and 2021 never quite hit the heights we expected. A broken ankle cruelled his 2020 ambitions, and in 2021 he never seemed to catch up with the pace. He maintained some semblance of his defensive work-rate. It was down from 0.62 tackles per minute (tpm) in 2018 to 0.54 in 2021. That reduction though matched an increase in minutes (from 28 per game in 2018 to 42 per game in 2021) and ruck mess and was in line with what the rest of the middles were producing (see table below).
|Player||Minutes||Tackles||Tackles per minute (tpm)||Minutes per game (mpg)|
His gross outputs increased with minutes, up to 106 metres per game in 2020 and 96 in 2021, but not to the extent many had hoped. And in truth it’s hard to question Guler based on those big numbers alone. There’s no issue with the number of efforts he makes in a game, but rather there should be a question about their nature.
In a defence that started the year with the game plan of physically dominating contact in order to slow their opposition, he too often seemed content to compromise. Perhaps a function of the effort it took him to keep up his work-rate, he seemed less powerful, less controlling. More like he was making a pitch that perhaps the opposition would like a slow play the ball than forcing them into one. His lateral agility, never an issue before, felt like a weakness. Regardless, he led Canberra props with 19 ineffective tackles for the season (second worst on a per game and per tackle basis to Sia). It reflected an inability to impose himself defensively.
In attack there was a similar story to be told. Guler averaged far less post contact metres than the other middle forwards on a per game basis. Even with his less minutes allowing for more effort to go into runs, and the fact he often got the second rotation (and a more fatigued opposition), he still averaged less post-contact metres per run than Papalii, Horsburgh and Tapine.
|Player||Games||Runs||Post contact metres||Pcm per game||Pcm per run|
But perhaps the most worrying aspect of Guler’s performance in 2021 was in his tackle breaks. He had just 15 for the season. Sia Soliola was the only regular middle than had less (in either output or on a per game basis). Shit, even Josh Hodgson, hardly known for his hard running style, had more in both total (19) and per game output.
Their are extenuating circumstances. As Corey Horsbrugh found, the challenge of adjusting to the ever-changing rule changes was hard enough, but doing so while trying to drag one’s body back from serious injury in 2020 was a massive challenge. The Raiders new fitness guru Jeremy Hickmans will no doubt make sure that both Guler and Horsburgh are better prepared for 2022. As Hickmans noted here, the only message he has is the need for change, and Guler should relish that. Guler is also still young. At just 23 pretending he’s the finished product right now is silly.
This is the challenge for the Milk, and one they’ve faced before. Just like when Guler started his come up the Green Machine needs to get quicker, more mobile and fitter in the middle of the ground. One presumes this summer will be one of hill sprints and plyometrics to go with the usual strength training. I do not envy them.
It remains to be seen if Guler can make the adjustment. The Raiders think he’s worth the wait – they extended him at the beginning of this season until the end of 2023, surprising all of us who’d pencilled him in to join Nic Cotric at Belmore, closer to his family and with more opportunity at big minutes. That’s a vote of confidence and evidence they seem him as big part of the squad going forward – only recently upgraded Trey Mooney, recently signed Peter Hola, and the Osiris of this shit, Josh Papalii, are middle forwards with longer deals.
Whether he succeeds will be the result of his efforts and Canberra’s structures. If the Raiders get this off-season right then Guler has all the talent to succeed. If they don’t, he could be the poster boy for the wasted potential of 2021.