Being a Raiders fan means being perpetually afraid the other shoe is going to drop. That even when things are going well that something will come along that will make things ‘normal’ again. You might say I’m paranoid or pessimistic. But to that I say “oh look Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is actually going to be out for six weeks with a hamstring injury instead of two”.
It’s disheartening. Charnze hasn’t had his best season, but there’s no mistaking that on his return to the top-line (after being dropped for form and I think injury grounds) things have been going well for the Milk. His yardage work has been part of a back three that alongside stellar efforts from the big men, has played a massive part in propelling the Green Machine down the field and out of trouble. His defensive work has been excellent. In cover he’s saved multiple tries. In organisation he’s impressed, even helming 11 men to a stoic performance against the Sharks. It’s only a tiny coincidence the Raiders have let in 14 points in 200 minutes of footy he’s played since he returned to fullback fulltime.
It was only meant to be one, maybe two weeks, and we had written it was actually a relatively good amount of time for heir apparent Xavier Savage to get his feet wet as first grade custodian. Savage is a unique talent. We all know the amazing things he can do. And he has some weakness to his game that I hope he’s working on (you can read them here if you want, but in short, defence, handling errors and yardage). Two weeks would have been enough time to do a rapid evaluation, take the learnings on board and do some more work (Stick really wants him to do more work).
Six weeks is a different beast. It’s a bigger challenge, with heightened risk – long enough for confidence to be impacted or part of his game still in development to be exposed. Canberra’s reliance on Charnze’s defensive prowess may get uncovered. Good teams and good halfbacks (of which the Raiders play plenty of in the next few weeks) will test Savage. If things go well it’s all good, but if things go poorly then it can create undeserved noise around a player. Just ask Semi Valemei. If the club doesn’t take a long term focus there’s a tendency for it to be treated as sink of swim stuff, when development and the future should be the priority. However this goes, it should be treated with equanimity. Call me Diogenes because we need to be stoic.
The upside of course is experience. There’s no substitute, and given Savage has spent so much time watching footy lately, it’s good news that he’ll be playing it for a change. And if i’m optimistic, maybe it’s when he starts to make those moments that make you believe in truth and beauty a bit more regular.
Regardless of the success of his replacement, the Raiders will miss Charnze over this elongated time. But my hope is that the turnaround of the last few weeks is carried forth by everyone around Savage, putting less responsibility on the young man to fill Nicoll-Klokstad’s shoes, and more space for him to develop. But one can be forgiven for being cautious. When you’re a Canberra fan you gotta be.
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