The Tevita Pangai Jr All Stars: Part IV

BY DAN

How the world goes in swings and roundabouts.

When we came up with the Tevita Pangai All Stars back in 2018, it was a dark time to be a Raiders fan. Things had really gone poorly that season, and here was someone that King Stuart basically said would never make it in first grade tearing the league up as a hard-running second-rowers for the Broncos. Meanwhile the Raiders were finding new a createive ways to lose games they should have won. Nothing was going right. Feel familiar?

Back then we sat sat down then to work out if Pangai Jr was a lone loss: a singular miss or a pattern of misidentifying talent by the powers that be at Raiders HQ? Because this is rugby league, and we are a blog, we made a footy team out of the players that Coach Stuart rejects. It wasn’t a good team in 2018, which was heartening. Over the years we’ve had another couple of cracks at it (see 2020 here and 2021 here). In better times it showed us the path to finals footy was ours to follow if we remains vigilant (and Sticky kept sacking the right people).

After a rough 2021 for the Milk and a cleanout, the Tevita Pangai Jr All Stars is different side, and to be honest, the team is getting better. That reflects more how long Sticky has been in the job as much as the fact that talent is walking out the door, but that doesn’t exactly salve the wounds right now. The bench has got a big jolt as the Raiders cleaned house in the middle after the disaster that was 2021. So we’ve actually had to consciously leave out players that have been mainstays of the Pangai Jr All Stars. Art imitating life all over again hey?

We’re not really clear on the criteria, other than it’s the players that Sticky rejects that make Sticky the ‘best’. So please enjoy the latest installment of the Tevita Pangai Jr All Stars

Fullback: Anthony Milford

Anthony Milford has carried the torch for this position, a similar representative of the existential pain of being a Raiders fan to Pangai Jr. At Canberra it seemed like he could have been anything, and it hurt so much when he left. He begun to touch his potential at Brisbane, then just didn’t. I’ll never be 100 per cent sure why. Now his life seems to be in the toilet.

Caleb Aekins and Bailey Simonsson were the only other people considered for this position. Caleb was not good for the Raiders. In fact Caleb was so bad that we wrote about how the forced switch from Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad coincided with the Milk’s defence going from elite to leaky almost immediately in 2021. So no one was surprised when his one year deal wasn’t renewed for 2022, especially with Xavier Savage waiting in the wings.

Previous winners: Anthony Milford (2018, 2020, 2021)

Wingers: Bailey Simonsson and Edrick Lee

Bailey Simonnson spent three tantalising years in Canberra. He could have been anything, he just needed some consistent footy and a clear role. He never got it, because of injury, because Nicoll-Klokstad took the fullback position from him before 2019. The thing was despite it not being clear what his best position was Sticky got him in the 17 as much as possible. I suspect he’ll have nothing but success in Parramatta.

Edrick Lee played Origin. What a wild time.

Previous winners: Edrick Lee (2018, 2020, 2021), Nic Cotric (2021), Jordan Rapana (2020)

Centres: BJ Leilua and BRENKO

We always had a soft spot for BJ Leilua, football player. As we wrote here, he was one of those players that make the impossible seem easy, and the easy downright impossible. He was criminally underrated in Canberra, and we were sad it never worked out with him and the Tigers.

We tossed up between BRENKO, Michael Oldfield, and Curtis Scott here. We feel best about BRENKO, because like Leilua, when he was at Canberra he’d always find a way to do something brilliantly random. There’s a chip kick try that I wish I could find the footage for from back in the day that I often think about. And hey, he’s won a grand final and played Origin. He’s also played close to as many first grade games as Scott, and more than Oldfield, and has been the Broncos star recruit this offseason (ok, maybe Adam Reynolds is, but BRENKO is a close second).

We thought Michael Oldfield would have made a bigger impact than he did at Parramatta. I am sad he’s not got a spot in the league. Curtis Scott has all the talent in the world, but it seems like he’s just a jerk highly flawed human, so we left him out.

Previous winners: BJ Leilua (2020, 2021), BRENKO (2020, 2021), Rufio Jeremy Hawkins (2018)

Five-eighth: Aidan Sezer

The first King who was promised. I thought he was the real deal. I thought he was going to single-handedly drag the Raiders back to relevance. He never quite mete the expectations. But he did his job, and he almost got us to the promise land. And then we pushed him out. It shocks me to this day that he hasn’t played NRL footy since the 2019 grand final.

The only thing that makes me sadder is that I’ve never put Terry Campese in this spot. Of course his career was ended under Stuart’s watch. But if we’re being honest (and to retrofit why I got it so wrong the three times before this), Campo’s knees made that decision. Sticky just happened to be the person that passed on the message.

If you’ve never read this piece we wrote on Campese’s retirement please do so. It was one of the first things we wrote. In 2014!

Previous winners: Blake Austin (2020, 2021), Lachlan Lewis (2018)

Halfback: George Williams

Williams’ acrimonious departure remains one of the most confounding part of 2021. Did he always want out? Could it have been handled better? If Stuart didn’t push his eject button could he have been coaxed to stay? The answers are probably yes, yes, and no, and thus we pushed out a critical player in the middle of the season. It’s a shame because that’s what he’s remembered for, instead of that pass against Melbourne in round three 2020.

Nice.

Previous winners: Aidan Sezer (2020, 2021), Mitch Cornish (2018)

Lock: Mitch Barnett

It makes me sad that I left Shaun Fensom off this list last year. For years Fensom was critical underrated, simply because he didn’t make highlight plays. Instead he was Horace Grant in search of a Pippen and Jordan: the man doing the dirty work, only no one noticed because the Raiders didn’t really win that much. I was so happy he got to play a grand final for the Cowboys, and so sad when he hurt himself early.

Mitch Barnett is great. More consistent not as great as Joe Tapine can be. I’d prefer Tapine, but there’s no doubt Newcastle are happy they got their hands on Barnett.

Previous winners: Shaun Fensom (2018, 2020), Mitch Barnett (2021)

Second row: John Bateman and TPJ

The spiritual centre of this team has probably shifted to the middle in recent years, but he can play an edge so will stick him here. He’s won a premiership, and will be joining the Bulldogs this season as part of a massive talent injection. It’s less painful to see him do well these days. Such is the passage of time I guess.

Sometimes I wonder how John Bateman would have acted if he’d been on the side in 2021. I can’t decide if he would have engineered an exit, punched a teammate, or absolutely refused to let the disaster that was that season occur. Probably all three. I miss him.

Previous winners: Tevita Pangai Jr (2018, 2020, 2021), Mitch Barnett (2018, 2020), John Bateman (2021)

Props: Junior Paulo, Dunamis Lui

Something cracks me up about putting Lui in this starting line up. It was always a source of tension in Raiders circles – many didn’t think he should have been in the top 17, let alone starting. And so often he’d play a first rotation of 18-25 minutes and then never be seen again. But we remember his career in Canberra fondly, as an important part of our 2019 grand final team and surprise Origin player at the end of 2020.

Junir is very good at football. He was brilliant before the rule changes, and has utilised his amazing passing skills to remain just as effective after them.

Also I left our Paul Vaughan. He was stunning when he left and I was sad. Then it emerged there were off-field things that weren’t public, and that maybe he wasn’t the best team-mate. He played Origin after moving to the Dragons, but also continued to do dumb things off the field. Some people never learn.

Previous winners: Paul Vaughan (2018, 2020, 2021), Shannon Boyd (2018, 2020), Junior Paulo (2021)

Hooker: Siliva Havili

I miss Siliva Havili and it was a mistake to let him go. Able to play hooker, middle, and edge (in a pinch), he was such an underrated and valuable part of all the good stuff the Raiders had done in recent years. He fit into everything the Milk did, playing alongside both Josh Hodgson and Tom Starling and not skipping a beat. I’m glad he’s on to greener pastures. The King of Tonga deserves it.

Previous winners : Kurt Baptise (2018, 2020, 2021)

Bench: Mark Nicholls, Sia Soliola, Ryan James, Liam Knight

Last year we said Liam Knight and Mark Nicholls were the exact kind of budget forwards that Wayne Bennett turned into functional players. Well he certainly managed that, with Mark Nicholls becoming a cult hero at South Sydney (Knight for his part got less game time – mostly due to injury – in 2021 after a very good 2020).

Sia is a god who did his best for the Raiders on the field, and now does his best for them off the field. Ryan James isn’t the kind of player the Green Machine need, but he’s the exact leadership the Broncos do.

Previous winners: Scott Sorensen (2018), Mark Nicholls (2018, 2020, 2021), Junior Paulo (2018), Dave Taylor (2018, 2020), Liam Knight (2020, 2021), Michael Oldfield (2021)

2 comments

  1. All became regular first graders elsewhere and some even played rep footy. But I don’t have many qualms about most of them being moved on. Would be good to see Sezer, Pango and Simonson still here though.

    Like

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