Long term thinking

By DAN

The Canberra Raiders future proofing project is continuing, with the otherwise pointless Mole reporting they are bringing long-term rake prospect Stanley Iongi to Canberra.

Iongi comes with high plaudits. As the good people over at the Green Machine Podcast have already told you, he’s the junior Kiwi hooker at the under 16 level, and NRL scouts have had a keen eye on him for some time. His current coach compares him to Brandon Smith – which we presume he means in a bustling runner style – which is both a compliment and sets up unfair expectations.

Because he’s still a child I’ve never seen him play. Analysing what he does off the basis of highlight packages like this feels like a forlorn task. For starters you’re only getting to see the good gear. Further you’re assessing his quality against amateurs, children, and other people he won’t be likely to face in the coming years. And you don’t get to see the small things – for a hooker it’s things like how does he sell playing one direction but going the other? How does he identify a tiring forward at A defender, or how does he bring runners on to the ball. Does he hold his defensive position against bigger players, and does he cover across the field for his teammates? As any assessment must come with these caveats; this is a limited and biased sample.

Nonetheless it’s plain to see he’s got a turn of pace that would make Tom Starling proud. There’s a devastating right-foot step in there which will be handy for attacking those tiring defenders around the ruck (and you can see him do that ad nauseum in the clip). There’s also a few examples of ball-play and interplay with the forwards to suggest he’s not just a runner. Combine that with some powerful hitting in defence and there’s enough there to suggest there’s first grade quality talent to mould. Oh and he brutalises some ball-runners with proper hard-as-nuts defence. Good stuff.

This acquisition is another example of the Raiders going where others fear to tread. Iongi is a Kiwi, and was currently scheduled to play in the Q Cup system this year. Call him two-for-one, because for reasons beyond me most NSW teams are unwilling to look New Zealand or Queensland for talent, and both places are where the Milk have found talent that is otherwise shut out from them. By my count 7 of the projected starting 13 are from either New Zealand or Queensland, and 11 of the top 30 (and this doesn’t count the Englishmen) have either played for Queensland or New Zealand at some stage. Canberra have to look to these places, and England, because they often can’t compete with Sydney teams for more ‘local’ talent, so it’s good when these searches are fruitful.

It’s worth noting that while most NSW teams don’t look in Queensland, it plays a big part of the Melbourne Storm’s success. Iongi was reportedly part of their system (though not signed to them directly). While being wary of players that the Storm don’t go all out to keep, Harry Grant has that position sewn up for the next decade, so you can see why Melbourne might not put big resources into the hooker position (this point also brought to you by the good people at the Green Machine Podcast). For the Raiders, it’s good to be swimming in the same pool as the Storm.

The Mole tells us Sticky will be paying special attention to him, which sounds both nice and slightly foreboding. I’m interested in how he fits in. He’ll be starting the season in SG Ball, which sits fourth in the Milk’s broader depth chart at the position, but it feels more like, to quote Fran Fraschilla, he’s two years away from being two years away. Josh Hodgson is gone after this year if not before, and once Tom Starling’s legal troubles are behind him (*crosses fingers*), he’ll be signing an extension to the end of 2024 (presumably). In the meantime, Adrian Trevilyan will finally be getting some regular football in the NSW Cup this year; he’s only two years away from being dubbed the next big thing by all and sundry.

It appears this signature isn’t so much about filling out a spot in a depth chart as it is about collecting talent. With three highly-touted hookers under 23 the Raiders are well stocked for the future. Ricky Stuart loves competition. The only thing we would caution at this stage is to watch getting carried away with Iongi (or Trevilyan for that matter). They are still teenagers, and when you put a ‘next big thing’ tag on anyone’s head it’s a tough load to bear, let alone people who are still developing both physically and mentally. The road to NRL success is littered with people who had demands and expectations put on them before they were ready. Let them develop and grow and we’ll revisit this in a few years time.

But we should all be happy the Raiders are bringing Iongi on board. He seems a talent, and is evidence that the Milk are thinking beyond the current generation in how they build their side.

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