Red Letter Day

BY DAN

It’s been a rough few weeks to be a Raiders fan. The injuries to Jamal, Harley and Josh. The confirmation of the departure of Ryan Sutton, and that Hodgson wouldn’t play for the side again. The flipping Cowboys game. But sprinkled in between all this mess is the fact that Canberra have managed to retain a host of players they had intended to. The latest is Corey Horsburgh.

At the end of last year Don Furner identified a need to keep a host of players off contract at the end of 2022. Ryan Sutton, Corey Horsburgh, Corey Harawira-Naera and Tom Starling. A successful few months later and only Ryan Sutton won’t be returning. The loss of Sutton will be felt and cannot be underestimated (as can’t his unexplained absence on team-list Tuesday) but the retention of the other players is a boon for the squad.

The extension of Horsburgh is all upside and value. His powerful running, useful passing and offloads bring width and second phase play to the Raiders middle. His ability as a link man makes him an important part of the team’s new attacking structure. He can be a physical defender (though his aggression sometimes tips into ill -discipline). He’s more mobile than most think and his work rate is admirable. Even in a down year last year he averaged more tackles per minute than any other Canberra forward (outside of the hookers), and made as many post-contact metres per carry as Josh Papalii (good for equal second amongst the team’s middles after Joe Tapine). He has plenty of development left in him, but his performance so far this season suggests these numbers (and more) are attainable again.

The Red Horse likely represents good value for Canberra. Horsburgh’s had two major injuries over the last two years, which would have substantially constricted the amount of money he could have asked for. With the memory of 2019 influential in projecting his upside, and a knowledge of the robustness of his body (and game development) far beyond any other team, the Milk have been best placed to understand his value. Presuming a team-friendly deal, this makes Horsburgh a useful and relatively cheap way to fill out a roster. Of course there’s a risk with his health – that’s how they would get such value. It seems it’s one the Raiders think they can manage.

It’s hard to not compare his retention to Sutton’s departure. It may be the Raiders decided Red is a better fit for their middle rotation. Horsburgh projects as an impact forward, best suited to 30-40 minutes a game in relief of the star forwards. As noted above his ability to bend the line for post-contact metres, his offloads, and his defensive work-rate are noteworthy reasons that Canberra will have kept him. These also separate him from Sutton; who has a high work rate but as a ball-runner is more noted for his engine rather than his impact. With Papalii and Tapine in town for the foreseeable future (hopefully), precious cap space was better spent complementing the two star forwards with impact players than paying overs to duplicate them with other big minute types.

More likely is that the Raiders wanted to keep Sutton but not at the cost that the Dogs wanted to pay, nor with the attraction of moving to Sydney that suited Sutton’s lifestyle (though am I crazy that maybe Sticky is upset because the money wasn’t different?). If Horsburgh is on a cheap deal, then the above stands as a useful consolation to Sutton’s departure. He’s got plenty of upside. He’s not expensive. He’s a good fit. Given the talent in the pipeline (see Mooney, Rushton, Clarkson, Esera, etc) it’s a good low risk signing. It’s how Canberra should be prioritising it’s forward retention.

The structure of the deal is interesting. It’s a two year deal – effectively an elongated trial period for Horsburgh to prove his worth. But it also includes a player option for the third year (shouts to zerotackle.com for that). My presumption is that this is at the request of Horsburgh’s management to allow him to prove his fitness and worth over the next two years before hitting the market again. It’s further evidence for the fact the current deal is likely team friendly.

Horsburgh’s signature won’t be the difference between a premiership trophy or otherwise, but it’s likely value for money and a reward for past patience and development. All in all it’s a small win for the Milk.

And a small win right now is desperately needed.

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