Knee-ly broken?

Josh Hodgson story count: 4 GMP posts of Jamal Fogarty’s rig: 3

BY DAN

The hits just keep coming.

2022 is proving a test of resilience for the Canberra Raiders (and you and me for that matter). Fresh off Saturday’s disaster against the Cowboys, the Canberra Times are reporting Josh Hodgson’s knee injury could be worse than initially feared. At time of writing just what that means isn’t clear, because the Coach Stuart and the Raiders are yet to consult with the medical staff. I’m no NRL Physio, but anything to do with Hodgson’s knees isn’t good news, and if it’s something to do with an ACL, like a partial tear, it’s time for all of us (ok just me) to stare quietly into the bottom of a bottle listening to Fast Car by Tracy Chapman.

Anyone thinking that the Milk wouldn’t miss Hodgson got a rude awakening on Saturday. The Milk were a rudderless mess, as bad as they’ve been at any point in recent years. They played with little width, unable to get outside or through the Cowboys aggressive defence. Elliott Whitehead, cooked from the defence he had to do in the middle on Jason Taumalolo (and others), was unable to play his role as a key decision-maker one off the ruck. The Raiders attack narrowed and stagnated. Matt Frawley’s kicking game was ineffective. Jack Wighton became the sole option for long kicks, finding himself under tremendous pressure to get a kick away.

In all these matters Hodgson could have given crucial support. He may not be the Raiders preferred nine right now, but his lasers across the field could have opened up the Cowboys defence through the early parts of the game, tiring them out instead of allowing them to tea off on the Milk’s one-out attack. This would have allowed Starling to play to his best skills, testing tired big men with his feet, rather than fighting for space and metres around the ruck. Hodgson could have then shifted to ball-playing lock, resting Whitehead and allowing Canberra to get beyond the jam with his long passing and intelligent ball play. Hodgson’s not fast, but he’s more likely to put pressure on a defensive line than Frawley could manage (if only through his ability and willingness to ball play in the line). And his ability to kick from dummy half for metres and corners would have been so valuable as Canberra tried to work there way back into the game.

Hodgson wasn’t meant to have a big role this year, but he was meant to complement and support so many other players to be their best. Right now the Raiders are $15 short at the bake sale and Josh Hodgson cooks the marshmallow squares that could prevent a Jimmy Carter statue and a riot (weird reference but ok).

Let’s leave aside to real possibility right now that Hodgson may have played his last game for Canberra (I’m not ready for that). Instead the focus should be today’s problem. If Hodgson is out longer than expected (and from this reporting it certainly seems it will be a while), the Raiders need to find a way to get that width back to their attack. That’s not to say they should be shifting side to side, but rather they need to win the middle by moving the big opposition around, attacking them through multiple points and angles. They face another pack of large gentlemen in the Titans next round, and they cannot afford a similarly predictable front and hope for a different result.

Adrian Trevilyan debuted on the weekend, and while much of the game was a clusterfuck, there were brief moments where he fired 20m passes across the ground and Canberra looked more threatening. Whether he starts to allow Starling to come on later against a more worn pack, or whether he’s a bench player, he proved on the weekend that he’s worth further investigation at the first grade level, at least in a bit-part role. It’s clear he’s expected to be a big part of Canberra’s hooker rotation going forward, so if Hodgson is going to be out a long time, there’s no reason he can’t start his development now. I had previously worried about him getting enough football into his legs. It seems there’s plenty of minutes available now.

Trevilyan was identified by Hodgson as potentially being able to play a supporting role at lock too, which seems a step too far at this stage for me. New players need simple roles, and asking Adrian to perform a role that experienced footy players like Whitehead and Hodgson play is a lot. It would also put him on the field with Starling which may present a defensive issue. He, and they, may be able to it, but it’s a risk. Instead Canberra could find a person they trust to make the critical decisions that these two players are capable off at lock. As Josh Papalii has shown us in these two games, not every forward can throw that link pass well, and not every lock can be a ball playing forward. Corey Horsburgh is a great passer for a forward but he’s not got the ball playing ability of Smelly or Josh.

I’ve said this before, but I see such value in letting Adam Elliott play a bigger role in the middle. So far Sticky has only used him as an edge forward, shifting Corey Harawira-Naera into the middle with mixed results. I presume that has been done in defensive support, but with Schneider’s return there should be less need for that role. Perhaps Stuart could swap the Elliott and Harawira-Naera rotations around, allowing Corey to play the majority of his minutes on his preferred edge, and Elliott to provide some ball play in the middle. Otherwise Canberra risks a partially implemented plan (as seen in both rounds this season). Be brave and back your systems Stick!

There’s no time to waste and likely plenty of games to fill in. Trevilyan and Elliott can expand their roles to fill some of the gaps left by Hodgson. It won’t fix the whole mess, but Canberra’s 2022 is quickly becoming the cartoon boat with too many holes. At least this will plug a few while we hope for help.

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