Hudson Misses Out


Hudson Young didn’t make the Australian squad for the Rugby League World Cup.

He’d been around the discussions and even made the train-on squad. Ultimately the selectors chose more ‘known’ quantities like Angus Crichton and Liam Martin (who’s ‘known’ in that I know he’s not that good), and reward the try scoring phenom that is Jeremiah Nanai. So while it’s understandable that he didn’t make the side, it’s important to recognise how far he’s come in such a short time, and despite this, how much more room there is for him to improve.

Young obviously had a brilliant year. From scoring the game winning try in round one it was clear he was ready to fulfil the potential we had rightly touted him to do before the season started. The clear skills he’d clearly established over the previous years – hard nosed defence, a powerful upright running style, and a fend that suggested that every tackle was a bar fight and he was starting something. The promise was there. But was the delivery?

He showed all this wasn’t just ‘in theory’ this season, hitting career highs in metres (106 per game), line breaks (11, third among backrowers in the competition, and ahead of Australian squad members Jeremiah Nanai and Liam Martin) and tackle breaks (59, which is equal 6th among actual backrowers in the competition and again ahead of Nanai and Martin). This was built from a power and athleticism that allowed him to take often dead carries, push someone in the chest and keep going. It also allowed him to be always be around the ball when plays needed to be made or balls needed to be chased. That’s a big part of why he led the Raiders in tries this year.

It also allowed for his ferocious defensive pairing with Jack Wighton, that saw Canberra’s left side defence be legitimately scary to attack. Watching him and Wighton up close in the round 18 game against Melbourne, it was clear that these two weapons trust each other in a way that allows them to go for big plays (i.e. rush out of the line) in the knowledge that the person beside them is athletically gifted and defensively intelligent enough to cover for them if it doesn’t come off. He’s still not perfect in that facet – and on occasion helps in on ball-runners when there was more danger out the back – but that’s nit-picking. That he’s already so strong defensively while relatively inexperienced is such a weapon for the Milk.

Young is already the blueprint of the kind of edge backrower that can be a star for Canberra for years to come. But what’s cool about Young is the extras he started showing this year. Before 2022 we had discussed how we thought we saw the glimpses of evidence of more creativity and passing to his game. But what he showed in 2022 was well beyond even our green-eyed hopes. 22 try involvements, 4 try assists and 5 line-break assists (all numbers more than Martin and Nanai) provide an idea of what he was capable of, but stats around this can often bely his role. The below try that he and Corey Horsburgh created showcased his skills. Not just game intelligence and athleticism to be around Big Red in support of the half break, but that no-look pass showed a level of touch, grace and vision that would make Steve Nash proud.

This slightly opportunistic passing wasn’t the only aspect of his creativity that Young unleashed in 2022. He was an increasingly large part of the left side attack (which scored near half (47%) of the Raiders points during the season), trusted by Jack Wighton to make smart decisions about pass and run. His opening game decision to pass Timoko as part of the set-play run-around that he and Jack so often run was exemplary of this. During the season he often held this (mostly because Jack loved to call it when there was no space to do anything but run) and the obvious decision is to give the ball wide to the star with the game on the line. But Huddo saw the smaller Nicho Hynes, a poor one-on-one defender who wouldn’t be able to handle Timoko, and the Milk won the game from it.

This isn’t a fully developed skill. He’s still working on this, and like so many gifted creators, the more the games they play the better they get at it. On occasion it feels like he makes decisions in the spirit of Josh McCrone (i.e before the play), and on other times he pushed a wide pass out of excitement when going through the hands could have been the better option. But this is what being young is about (no pun intended). The more opportunities he gets to create the better he’ll get at it. And if the Raiders do not evolve offensively then he’ll need to.

That’s not the only thing he needs to work on. It’s hard to tell the cause of it, but Hudson is rarely used running strong lines. Perhaps it’s partly the angles he runs, or the connection with Jack, or the team structures – or some combination of all three. He’s obviously capable of it, witness the crash ball below off Tommy Starling’s shoulder. But it’s not used as much as one would hope.

It’s a skill that it would be good to see utilised a bit more. With an offload like his there’s no reason he couldn’t be used on occasion in the same way that the Eels use Shaun Lane – to punch a hole in the defensive wall and hang a pass around the corner to someone super fast, (like maybe a fullback? I dunno, someone check the roster) hanging around looking for something to do. The fact that he happily ran that line off Starling suggests it could be driven by connection and cohesion with Wighton or perhaps the game plan the Milk’s coaching staff put around their star five-eighth.

So there’s space to improve in his defensive consistency, offensive decision making and some line running stuff, but that there’s space for improvement should excite everyone. Part of Hudson’s appeal is that he’s still moulding into the man he will be – and he already has such a broad array of skills to deploy, and those that are often not found in second-rowers. That he can still add talents to his skill tree means that *this* isn’t even the best he can be. That’s good news.

That doesn’t mean it’s a linear trajectory from here. His career has been full of fits and starts, and now he’ll be a part of every team’s game plan when they face the Milk. He’ll attract more scrutiny as teams search for any weakness they can take advantage of. Defenses will shift towards him and he’ll need to prove that this year is the beginning, not the end of the Hudson Young project. The good news is that Hudson has revealed before that he’s always working at his game, and loves watching game film and finding new ways to succeed.

But if he needed to understand there’s work to do, if he needed motivation for skill work or conditioning or to watch some film this summer, the only sliver lining of not making the Australian team is the knowledge that he’s so close to doing so.

Hudson Young didn’t make the Australian squad, but if this season is anything to go by, he will soon.

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