The Red Horse Mystery


So it turns out that Corey Horsburgh has been very sick.

As revealed by the esteemed and surprisingly quick-footed ABC journalist and podcaster Tim Gore on the latest Raiders Review with Blake and the Pork, the Red Horse has been suffering from pneumonia. The Raiders had announced weeks ago that Horsburgh has a non-covid illness, which we’d hoped was minor. Little came from the club until Gore asked the right questions (or the right people? I dunno, he’s the journalist) and so finally we know what has been ailing the big man. I can stop my “justice for Corey” hashtag.

Pneumonia is no joke, and this could have real impacts on Horsburgh. Normally these guys are dealing with situations and injuries that I have no frame of context for. I’ve never had to jump in an ice bath. I’ve never had to take a needle to play a game. Most of my own contact sport career has been mostly been hilarious collisions in which I fly off the point-of-contact like a one of those people in the novelty sumo suit. But I do have recent experience with pneumonia, from the fever and the night-sweats, to the un-ending cough, the months it took me to get back to a semblance of the oxygen-saturation levels I’d had prior. It was the sickest I’ve ever felt in my life, and I’ve had ‘rona. All in all I do not recommend it as a past-time or pleasure.

The noteworthy thing is how much a sickness like pneumonia can hang around. The Horse has always had an interesting relationship with aerobic fitness. He has one of those physiques that never looks lean, no matter how fit he is. He’s actually been a high work-rate player, as shown in his often high rating in advanced metrics that try to account for this like the Rugby League Eye Test’s ‘involvement rate’. Regardless whether he’s a power player or secretly fit, pneumonia is going to take a toll on the amount of oxygen in his blood. This could mean that any hope for him to waltz back into first grade in the next few weeks and perform at the same level as he was prior is too optimistic. Care must be taken to make sure he works back to first grade safely.

A few weeks ago the idea of losing Horsburgh for an extended period of time would have been a real problem. Tapine has been incredible all season, and Adam Elliott a welcome addition, but there was enough gaps in the middle forwards for eyebrows to be raised. Josh Papalii was looking tired. Harry Rushton had broken his face. Trey Mooney had an injury, and Emre Guler hadn’t been seen since round six. The stocks were looking thin.

But in the last few weeks that has felt less fragile. Big Papa has had his two best games in months in consecutive rounds. Emre Guler has looked massive and agile, using quick feet in the line to get between defenders and create metres not just for him but for whoever carries next. His defence has been impressively physical too, which is a step up for him. In addition Peter Hola and Ata Mariota have been proving their worth in NSW cup (both are averaging 110 plus metres a game and 94% tackle efficiency). Neither is far away from getting a shot in first grade. Trey Mooney and Harry Rushton are still hurt, but the performance of others means that missing three first-grade quality middles isn’t the source of anxiety it may have been.

The Raiders are lucky. This could have been a difficult situation, with competing short-term and long-term incentives, not to mention the risk to Horsburgh’s health. Instead it seems Horsbrugh will be ok, and the production of the other middles has provided assurance that the depth chart is capable of addressing both the short-term and long-term needs of the club. Best of all it’s meant that Horsburgh has been able to take time, and should be able to even more, to get properly healthy. It’s a rare moment where development and immediate needs have both won out.

I just hope Corey gets well soon.

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