The Raiders got some good news. Joey Taps is staying.
Brent Reed is reporting that Joe Tapine is signing on for the Raiders for another four years. The numbers are apparently four years and $3.4 million, meaning that Tapine will be with the Milk until end 2027, which is amazing to think. By that time he’ll be 34. This, in all likelihood is his last major contract. Update: this is now confirmed by the club.
To me this is unequivocally good news for the Milk. At his best Tapine is the top of the competition. There a few positions Canberra can boast having one of the best the world has to offer, but Tapine is exactly that. He was otherworldly in 2022, leading the competition in post-contact metres, second in offloads, elite in tackle breaks. He even added passing to his game in 2022, becoming a key link through the middle, and even turning on tries for team-mates with impressive short and long passing. In short, Tapine was everything you could want from a prop, and more.
The Raiders are certainly paying top dollar for him. Payne Haas has been rumoured to be on around 850k a year at various times. The article notes that Tapine is paid more, and only James Fischer-Harris is on similar money. As we noted Joseph was brilliant this season, but some will worry about paying for a prop over thirty as he ages, particularly one that turned it on so much to get a new contract. We’ve been down that road with Jarrod Croker and Elliott Whitehead and it hurts the side over time. As we’ve noted ad nauseum in these pages, there’s evidence to suggest that props generally go into downturn after 30.
This is obviously a risk for the Milk. They are definitely paying at the top of the market for a player that may never reach those heights again. It’s almost certain that at the backend of this deal Tapine won’t be playing like an 850k player. But while that risk exists, that doesn’t make it worth not signing Tapine. Firstly, while 2022 was obviously amazing, Tapine has been hinting this for year. While previous years weren’t as impressive statistically, he seemed to be turning a corner over 2019 and 2020 as his role in the side settled as a middle forward. He averaged 120 plus metres in both those years, and it suggests a good floor.
Further, much of his on-the-ground output wasn’t so much a new set of skills, but their implementation over a longer period of time. He played more minutes this season, and there’s nothing to think that he can’t keep playing them, so long as he stays fit. That’s a motivation issue – and one to watch when money is now no longer an incentive. But there was plenty in Tapine’s comments this year (and as captain of the Maori All-Stars) that suggest he has turned a corner in his attitude to the game. I’ll take him on face value for now.
Secondly, the new facets to his game aren’t temporary, and they are built from the Raiders opening up the playbook (so to speak) for the middles, asking them to take a bigger role in passing and creating through the middle third. That had previously been the sole domain of Josh Hodgson, but he won’t be around anymore, and so Tapine will likely remain empowered to continue creating. Further, the reason this worked so well for Tapine was that he was asked to do it as an experienced player. Players – at many positions – become better creators as they age. I’m sure there’s a myriad of reasons for that, but it does feel like it’s something that won’t disappear, and may even guard against his ageing body. Add to this bunch his emerging leadership at the club, and frankly it sets him up for a good transition at the back end of his career.
Third, it’s pretty obvious that the Milk are unable to bring players of Tapine’s elite-ness to the club regularly. Paying a free agent to come to god’s country brings taxes – one for free agency generally, and another for Canberra specifically. That means if you were to hit free agency the 850k or so you’re spending on Joe wouldn’t bring back an 850 talent. It may get you a 600K talent, and at that point with middles your probably better off taking a punt on some young players and hoping they turn into Tapine. And then what was the point of it all anyway? In a perfect world they would only be signing Taps on for a two-year deal, but then in reality if they offered him that they wouldn’t be signing him at all.
This is a win for the team and the club. They have an elite forward pack that is settled for the next few years. It can form the basis of a window of competitiveness (I don’t want to say the other word, I’m not there yet) that can exist over the next three years, alongside some emerging talent both in the top side and still coming through. Players like Horsburgh, Timoko, Young and Savage are already hitting their straps, but those like Mariota, Mooney and Smith-Shields are only starting to play first grade. Tapine (and Papa) is the perfect player to lead as these other players emerge, then shift into the background as they takeover.
It’s a win for Don Furner – and if he can get Harley Smith-Shields to sign a deal, it makes for top reading alongside the Savage and Timoko extensions. And for Coach Stuart it means he has a star prop, a leader, and a foundation piece, the build around over the coming years. And for us we get to breath a little easier for the rest of the summer.
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