Herbie Farnworth and a Strategic Raider Raise

BY DAN

Reporting emerged this week that Canberra are making a play for Brisbane centre Herbie Farnworth. It’s unlikely, but just being in the market could be a benefit for the Milk.

Let’s start with the obvious. No matter what Alex McKinnon of Fox Sports says, Herbie Farnworth is probably not coming to the Green Machine. There’s no quotes from the Milk on the record. There’s multiple teams with bigger markets and better records interested. This is a tug of war between the Dolphins and the Broncos. The Donkeys want to keep him as cheaply as possible. The Dolphins are ready to break the bank for an emerging star. Canberra, and the Eels who are also mentioned as being interesting, are about Farnworth’s management ensuring credibility to the claim that he might leave, thus boosting how much the Broncos pay to keep him (or the Dolphins pay to get him). The Raider Raise (‘sup Jack Cronin?) in full effect.

It’s a shame because it’s a fun story and the Milk could use a fun story right now. Herbie is an obviously talented outside back with a massive future. Even as the Broncos have underperformed in the last few years he’s proven a capable performer. There’s little doubt he’ll be successful whatever his next stop may be, and at just 22, the next stop is going to be the one that probably gets his best years. As McKinnon notes, the trajectory is up.

He would be an imperfect but workable fit for the Raiders. The outside back depth in Canberra isn’t actually the Mariana trench right now. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a top line of talent. Harley Smith-Shields, Nic Cotric and Matt Timoko feel like guaranteed starters, and Xavier Savage and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad will have fullback sewn up for the foreseeable future. But beyond this it’s nothing but questions. Seb Kris may have hit his ceiling as a handy squad guy. Semi Valemei is all promise and hope. Jarrod Croker is a question of health primarily. Like Jordan Rapana he’s on the wrong side of 30 and time waits for no man. There’s only so much longer that they can keep breaking their bodies for the Milk.

In a sense the mere interest in Herbie is a repudiation of the current situation. For two or three years now we’ve been waiting for the post-2019 backline to emerge. An unending number of players have cycled through those positions, and it’s never been settled. Jarrod Croker returned from huge layoff and immediate seemed a valuable addition. Perhaps Canberra are sick of waiting for the ‘maybes’ in their roster to solidify their offering.

Farnworth would be a worthy addition. I think he’s best as a left centre (and so do the Broncos) so some flexibility would be required given that spot has felt like it was Harley Smith-Shields’ for two frustrating years now. It would likely require him move to the wing – I suspect Farnworth wouldn’t be moving all the way to Canberra to play out of position after all. Given the talent it would involve, the Raiders would make having them both in the same side work. Any half-decent coach can make Timoko/Cotric/Smith-Shields/Farnworth a scintillating backline over the medium term.

But that’s the fantasy, and it’s not particularly likely. What will probably happen is Farnworth will re-sign with the Broncos unless the Dolphins offer such an astronomical amount of money it becomes silly for him not to accept. From Farnworth’s perspective I suspect the Raiders and the Eels are there to make that threat of departure more real. The Dolphins aren’t exactly swimming in talent at the moment, and other stars have already used to make sure they get fully paid (see for example Kalyn Ponga). There seems to be a league wide hesitancy about joining the expansion side.

That’s why the Raiders and Eels are there. They both could use an outside back. They both (probably – you can never actually know these things) have plenty of cap space over the near future as some contracts come off the books. It’s about plausibility. It’s not just the Dolphins that want him, and the good teams being involved (and us!) make the dollars to keep him that much higher. Shit even rugby union is being considered an option (it isn’t). Right now the Broncos, or maybe the Dolphins are going to pay the price for Canberra and Parramatta being options.

That doesn’t mean the Milk are doing the wrong thing by throwing their name in the ring. We could be learning about how new head of recruitment Kelly Egan is planning to operate. This, in a sense, is a win-win situation. If the Raiders throw their hats in the ring, then maybe the long shot comes off. That’s the face value win. It doesn’t cost them anything other than perhaps a quizzical glance from the outside backs around the club. Given Don Furner has promised to run half the players out of the club recently, I would assume this is the least of their worries.

But if I can speculate, there might be secondary plan here. If the Dolphins win this battle then they’ll be paying top dollar for the young flyer. Every dollar they spend in a salary cap scenario is another dollar they can’t spend on Raiders’ talent – specifically people like Xavier Savage and Harley Smith-Shields, who the Milk will no doubt be hoping to negotiate new deals with after 1 November this year. Layers people. It sounds crazy, but smart list management is often about the people you don’t sign. One way to get value for money is by paying your players less. The other is by making sure everyone pays there’s more.

So while a brilliant young talent is unlikely to be coming to the shores of Lake Burley Griffin any time soon, it’s not bad that Canberra are being mentioned in this. However this works out it’s nothing but upside for the Milk. And right now i’ll take that win.

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