The most talented hooker in the Raiders squad has barely played twenty minutes of first grade this year. At this stage he may not even have a contract, and no public noise has been made about an extension. When is it Adrian Trevilyan’s turn?
Tom Starling was meant to be the heir apparent to Josh Hodgson but as we’ve said before, his development has been stunted by the very forces that had propelled him previously. The rule changes of 2022 turned the ‘juiced balls’ ruck of 2020/21 into a more normal pace, and Tom found less opportunities to play his kind of game, and more scrutiny on what he does and doesn’t do well. Suddenly he was sharing time with another rake.
Zac Woolford is his partner in time. He starts at hooker and does a solid, if unspectacular job. He has six try assists this year, from well-worked crash balls, a couple of grubbers and even one break up the guts of the Cronulla Sharks defence. It’s taken him a long time to crack first grade, and he’s proven himself perfectly adequate for the challenge. But his minutes have trended downwards over the season, and in the last few weeks his lateral agility in goal-line defence has been exposed.
Starling came to the fore when the game changed, Woolford as that change was rewound. One is an elite ball-runner, the other happier working over defence. Canberra has two growing players that both have plenty of skills, but neither provides the full gamut of them. One passes but their running is less threatening. The other is an elite runner but is a still developing passer. One is an impressive defender, despite his diminutive size, the other has been found out two weeks in a row by under-average agility and a lack of goal-line speed. Neither has exemplary service, and it’s played a big role role in the Milk’s attacking struggles this season.
It’s obviously not the only, or even the biggest problem, but it’s one that will need solving. Canberra need a player that can provide elite service and width, who can run and defend with the best. The Raiders have only two hookers contracted on their top 30 roster according to NRL.com’s tracker (this from a team that played three hookers in a single game last season). It would be wrong to suggest that Starling is the final product, or that Zac Woolford’s defensive mishaps mean he cannot play big minutes at first grade. But as we’ve seen this season, while both have plenty of room for development, it may be more as complementary parts than a leading role.
There is another player on Canberra’s roster that has shown the ability to play in first grade. He’s proven that his passing is as good as it gets. He’s shown he’s a creator. He’s managed five try assists in nine games during his injury interrupted NSW Cup season. Six line breaks and three tries indicate an ability to test the area around the ruck with his feet. His bigger frame means he’ll be physically ready for first grade before we know it. He’s 21 which means he’s not a child, and he proved in limited opportunities that he’s capable of defending in first grade. As most would know he’s a player of great pedigree, having won the Peter Sterling medal for best schoolboy player in 2019. He was brought to the Raiders by the late Peter Mulholland, who was as trustworthy of a talent scout as they come. Even Josh Hodgson has recognised the talent.
Trevilyan would also be a better fit for the current Raiders spine. Woolford can create, though he’s more honest than dazzling. Tom Starling re-enforces what is already happening rather than necessarily altering the game with deception and creativity. Apart from typical hooking needs like good service, the Green Machine also lack creativity across their spine. Jack Wighton is blunt force that does his best work being a footy player, not so much being a half. Jamal Fogarty is meant to be the organiser. Neither have proven capable of consistently creating. More innovation and inventiveness has been welcomed in the form of Xavier Savage, and Trevilyan could add to that, removing pressure on Wighton to be all things to everyone. What’s more, as noted by Hodgson, Trevilyan can potentially play alongside Starling, or Woolford, to ensure that Canberra’s mish-mash of talents is maximised.
The caveat here is that the tendency to be more excited by the potential of prospects than the reality of performers. Sometimes we get more excited by something new than we do by what’s being done on the field. Woolford and Starling may not yet be perfect, but when push comes to shove at the top level, it’s conceivable that Trevilyan isn’t either. What is clear is that Trevilyan is a first grade quality player with a lot of upside.
Which makes his ambiguous contract status all the more confusing. Neither the NRL.com tracker nor Zerotackle.com’s version have Trevilyan on contract for next season. While the Raiders have extended Zac Woolford, Matt Frawley, and a host of other players for 2023, there has been no news that I can find of similar overtures being made to Trevilyan. It’s possible his deal is outside the top 30 as a development deal, but that alone would terrify me. If I was the Dolphins, or another team in search of young talent, I’d be knocking on his door. Given Canberra’s imperfect solutions at hooker this is only more confusing.
We’ll be watching what happens with Trevilyan closely. Even though the Raiders have established players, and talent coming through in Stanley Iongi, it seems that Trevilyan has the highest ceiling of all these players. If Canberra are keen to find a spine that can solve the issues plaguing its attack then it should retain him. Here’s hoping we hear good news soon.
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