The Canberra Raiders missed out on the chase for Adam Elliott, with reports emerging in the Daily Telegraph that he would sign with the Newcastle Knights from next year.
Up until recently we had been certain he would stay with the Raiders – and to be honest it seemed Coach Stuart had been too. The fact that it had been Sticky who had been there to give Elliott a second chance when there was little demand. The positivity with which the club spoke about his impact. The fact that Canberra had identified his partner Millie Boyle as a key part of their NRLW pitch. They all spoke to a desire to keep him at the club. Then Mitch Barnett signed with the Warriors, and Millie signed with the Knights. And the “pull” factor in Canberra petered out.
Apart from the impact to the establishment of an NRLW team, the main loss of Elliott is of an effective and flexible middle forward. He’s shown this year he has a strong and enthusiastic carry. He’s been cracking 100 plus metres on the regular recently. In recent weeks he has been threatening to unleash the creative passing in the middle that we had ascribed to him in the preseason. He’s also shown solid defence, and his ability to fill in at hooker and on the edge makes him a valuable “Mr Fix-It” in the modern game. It’s like carrying an extra utility. The Raiders only occasionally used him as such, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t fulfil the role. There’s no question he’s been an effective performer for the Milk, and one that on his current deal was great value for the risk he represented. He will be missed.
The major ramification is that Canberra will need to find more middle replacements for next season. With Ryan Sutton and now Elliott leaving it means the Raiders will need to find the next generation of players to fill his role. Thankfully they have these in spades, and this makes for a great cushion for Elliott’s departure. Peter Hola, Harry Rushton and Trey Mooney are begging for more time in the top line. Rushton in particular would offer many of the skills that Elliott does (and some at a much higher level – such as passing). These three players are ready for first grade, and while they may not be as established as Elliott or Sutton, they could fill the same roles that those players have filled this season. The Milk have needed to find them more substantial opportunities than they’ve been given this season, and now a clear pathway to regular first grade footy is there for them if they continue on their current trajectories.
And this is where the silver linings really are for Canberra. Middle forwards are a place where clubs can find efficiencies in their cap. In 2019 Horsburgh, Dunamis Lui and Emre Guler were integral to Canberra’s success. None of them would have been earning above the average wage that year. Given the money the Milk have put into Josh Papalii and Joe Tapine, paying full value for established veterans is unsustainable and comes with risks to other positions. They’ve needed to find a way to get value and production out of their emerging talent.
It felt like in recent weeks that the Raiders were entering somewhat of a “negotiating battle” with the Knights. Their offer to Elliott had increased from two to three years, and given deals already done with Corey Horsburgh and Corey Harawira-Naera, it was creating a log jam of “veterans” who would reduce the incentive of the club to let the young talent play. It would also mean they were paying full value for “known quantities” when they had much cheaper talent waiting in the wings. The opportunity cost is astronomic. Rushton, Mooney or Hola may not immediately be the equal of Elliott (or Sutton) but the best way to get there is letting them play first grade (gee we’ve said that a few times this season).
Missing out on Elliott may therefore be a blessing in a disguise. It will free up money for other players and minutes for young players. The Raiders will no doubt miss Elliott’s stout defence, robust running and leadership, but they’ll be able to recreate much of that from Mooney and Rushton, for a fraction of the price. Conservatively, their potential ceilings are at least as high as Elliott at his best. In fact if I was being bullish I might suggest there’s every chance they can eclipse Elliott’s production more quickly than most would think.
So it’s a loss, but not terminal. Elliott may have been a key part of Stuart’s (and Don Furner’s) plans going forward. But the emergence of Harry, and Trey, should provide some solace to Canberra fans.
Oh but for Millie Boyle.
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