The longest time it has taken to go from signed to confirmed was finalised when the Canberra Raiders revealed they had signed Danny Levi for two years.
Somewhere near four months ago this was first reported. There’s a myriad of reasons that it hasn’t been announced until now (mostly Collective Bargain related), but it’s pleasing there’s certainty around the Milk’s roster going forward. I’ve not doubt Levi feels similar.
As we said last year there’s a practical if uninspiring logic here. Levi is a high-floor, low-ceiling back up for the less experienced Zac Woolford and the burdened with expectation Tom Starling. In a perfect world he’ll play less than a handful of first grade games across the life of this deal. He’s probably come fairly cheap, given he’s leaving the Super League. He’s got plenty of first grade experience, and in a pinch will provide assurance that Canberra isn’t one injury away from being a one-hooker team.
It’s not sexy, but it’s probably also sensible over the medium term while the Raiders wait for Adrian Trevilyan to recover from knee and shoulder surgery over the first half of next year. It wouldn’t surprise me if the deal is a club option in the second year, to allow flexibility if Trevilyan is ready for a greater role, or if Starling (or the club) decides to not pick up his option for 2024. Levi in effect becomes a potential sacrifice if Starling/Woolford/Trevilyan all reach their potential or a life-raft if one succumbs to free-agency or injury.
As we’ve noted before, as a player Levi is best as a depth option. He’s not a top creator or even a good passer but he’s not awful at either. He’s a pretty good runner from nine (I’ve always sort of seen him like a less good Tom Starling). If he’s the third hooker on the roster and he comes cheap then it’s not a bad outcome. Canberra will get better ruck manipulation and passing from Woolford. They’ll get better running from Starling. But Levi does a good enough job at both to ride the tide for a few games if injury happens. And it’s worth noting that he’ll fit in fine alongside either established player if the Raiders continue to play two hookers. He also has established relationships with Canberra’s Samoan stars.
Some may assume this is a sign that the Raiders pursuit of David Fifita is at a close, because this would give the Milk a full 30-man roster for 2023. It’s possible, but I would note that *if* Fifita comes it’s not meant to be for 2023 (but rather 2024). In addition, Don Furner has mentioned before that flexibility exists in the roster to reclassify players should recruitment demands eventuate in the shorter-term. If Canberra’s signs Fifita, and he’s ready to leave immediately, there’s a few players that may be able to be re-assigned to fit him in.
Indeed the main takeaway for me is that this means a salary cap is either finalised, or close to being so. There was somewhat of a false start before Christmas, when the NRL tried to undermine the union by announcing a cap figure without agreement in detail (though maybe principle? It’s not clear). Furner is part of those negotiations, so will likely have a good idea of the accuracy of that figure and the likelihood of being able to register contracts soon. Hopefully this means that the Raiders will be ready to rattle off some new signings in the coming weeks, particularly for the NRLW team.
It’s not going to change the Raiders’ fortunes for 2023, and you’re unlikely to find yourself excitedly telling a mate at the pub about Danny Levi. But solid, experienced players that fit throughout the roster are the hallmark of any good side.
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