Savage and the Future Focus

BY DAN

A little bit of sunshine spilt into the Canberra Raiders season last week when the Daily Telegraph reported that Xavier Savage had extended his time in Canberra to the end of 2025. Update: now official from the club.

This is good news, and for the most part a no-brainer. Savage is a talent, though not a fully formed one, and it’s wise to keep him around. Much like keeping Joe Tapine at Canberra, players with the raw talent that Savage has do not just waltz into the Milk every day. The Raiders have rightly identified that they need to see just how good he can be.

And of course he has plenty to work on. He’s barely 20, and has a long path ahead of him before he’s fully-formed. His positioning, on kicks and otherwise, gives away that he’s not been playing football long. Last round the Dragons made a straight-line break at their own 20 with no time left and the game on the line. Savage met the attacker at Canberra’s 20. Given his pace it’s confusing what he’d been doing that whole time, particularly given Corey Horsburgh had made the distance from marker in the same time. It’s not the first time something like that has happened, and it was much discussed in all the Raiders text threads i’m in. We’ve spoken of how his defensive organisation, one-on-one tackling, and his yardage work, are also things he will need to develop, but he’s made enough small improvements on a week-to-week basis to be confident that it’s possible to build on them.

The developmental sputtering that may occur around those issues is out-weighed by the talent and potential at his fingertips. He can turn nothing into something quicker than I say yes to a pint and a burger. While he’s not a creator yet, he’s shown an ability to play a part in backline movements with quick hands and quicker feet. He’s proven that he’s improving in this too. Last weekend we saw him create a try for either winger, one with his feet, and one with the confusion the threat of him running created to the defensive line. With more maturity more understanding of the impact he can have, these skills will only continue on an upwards trajectory.

The only thing Savage needs now is the support of the coaches to reach his potential, and the time and opportunities to make it happen. Development is rarely a linear path. There’s been moments this year where he’s looked like he’s ready to be a full time fullback, but as many when it’s been clear he’s needed more time, either to catch up physically or build experiential understanding of the game. Both of these will take time. There’s a challenge to building the attention to detail and discipline demanded of his role without sacrificing the willingness to try new things.

If anything this extension is a vote of confidence in Savage’s ability, and a bet that the Raiders are capable of helping him become the best version of that. It’s not been smooth sailing this year, but there’s been enough improvement to suggest this isn’t ridiculous. That isn’t to say a star is guaranteed. But it does mean the bits are there, and it’s worth noting that noise of pursuit of a short-term option like Jake Connor or Will Pryce from the Super League has dried up. Whether the Milk and Savage have the patience and ability to turn mould that clay are yet to be seen, but they seem to think the pieces are there.

It’s also good to see Canberra lock him down before the vultures could circle on 1 November. Teams like the Dolphins were always going to keep a close eye on talent to steal. Savage would be closer to family (though not close), and probably offered more money than the Milk could spend on someone who is undoubtedly a talent but maybe not a “sure thing.” This deal ensures that the by the time he’s up for a new contract, the Raiders will have a clear idea of just the value of the jewel they’ve got their hands on.

It’s good to see the Green Machine keeping a future focus in the absence of Kelly Egan and the late Peter Mulholland. With the discussions around Joe Tapine and Xavier, and the sad departure of Harry Rushton, it does seem like Raiders HQ are keeping their eye on the long game. I don’t often give credit to Don Furner in these pages, but this definitely seems like his work. There’s more work to do – particularly to make sure the Milk have depth across the pack – but it’s clear they’re thinking about it. It’s a necessity. This team isn’t winning a premiership this year, but with a clear mind about addressing needs, and the fully developed talents of players like Xavier Savage, maybe the next ‘window’ can be closer than it feels now.

Savage’s signature is another important building block towards the next iteration of the Raiders. As to whether he’s a foundation stone, only time will tell.

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One comment

  1. Well said Dan and what CNK did to ensure Xavier got more experience in First grade. I wish the club would relegate Sutton and Elliott to provide opportunities for Mariota and Mooney seeing as they have committed to the club in the future. Sutton and Elliott have chosen to be elsewhere which is fine but let’s put time into young players wanting to stay

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