Harley To Sign On


The Canberra Raiders got a small boost heading into the season with The Canberra Times are reporting that Harley Smith-Shields is about to sign on for at least another year. Update: now confirmed by the club.

It is very good news. We had been wondering about his contract situation for some time. He’d been eligible for a new deal since November last year, but little had been heard about it. It’s likely that the Raiders were waiting to see that his injured knee had properly healed, and that it could survive the rigors of a pre-season before finalising a deal.

Now that test is passed, it’s exciting to see what Smith-Shields might offer in 2023. Harley is not short on talent, and if he ever approaches anything close to his potential then the Milk could have a star on their hands. He’s got all the potential in the world. In 2021 he won the Raiders Rookie of the Year (alongside Matt Timoko) despite playing only seven games. In those seven games he managed four line breaks and two try-assists. To put it simply, the last time he was playing regular footy he was a shining light in a dark season. This year he will put pressure on all positions across the centre-three-quarters, able to play wing and centre happily (though his natural position had always been left centre, but he’s also played wing in first grade. To me he seems first cap off the rank should any of last year’s back five fail to fire.

The deal is yet to be finalised but the only remaining issue remains to be over length. At this stage the Canberra Times suggests it’s definitely until end 2024, but may end up being longer (update: end 2024 confirmed). I’m curious as to who is driving that. One would think if the Raiders were happy that his knee is sufficiently healed they’d be keen to lock in a talent like Harley for some time to come. This could mean they are still wanting to see Smith-Shields prove his body is up to a full season of first grade before making a bigger commitment. The other interpretation is that Smith-Shields is ready to back himself. Rather than seek the assurance of a long-term deal, he’s keen to prove that he’s worth a bigger commitment from the Milk after 1 November this year. Right now he’s making a deal at the bottom of his market value, so if he thinks he’s a shot of playing first grade this year, then it makes sense to take the opportunity, show you’re worth a bigger bag of cash and go back to the market come November.

Either way it’s worth watching how that shapes up. At this stage a deal might be finalised for longer and then we can wait until the end of next year to re-evaluate. But if a short extension is finalised, then we’ll be playing close attention to how he goes through the early goings of this season. Depending on game time and how he immediately performs, his status could become a risk for the Milk. If he plays to his potential it becomes not just a risk to the Raiders salary cap, but other teams will take notice and there may be a battle to keep him. There’s also a question of how he fits with Seb Kris and Matt Timoko, given all three’s best position may be centre.

It’s a good problem to have. It’s the job of roster managers to put together talented players. If teams weren’t interested in any of the Green Machine’s players it would be a bad thing. If they were reliant on a set number of players with no depth it would also be a problem (and run counter to Stuart’s preferred approach to instil competition for positions). Given how settled the back five was at the end of last season, that there’s a current depth player that could be ready to make a name for himself speaks to a much more impressive and settled backline than has been in place for the Raiders since Leipana was at its pomp.

One other thing we’re curious about is whether this is a negotiation that has progressed because the Raiders no longer have to worry about acquiring David Fifita. As we flagged when the discussion of Fifita first came up, the biggest risk we saw was to the ability of the Milk to retain talent that was up for discussion. Smith-Shields, Brad Schneider and Emre Guler seemed the most at risk, and perhaps what seems like a hope and prayer with Fifita has allowed Canberra to open up the cheque book for Smith-Shields. If that’s the case, I hope Schneider follows soon.

But for now I’m just relieved that the Raiders are likely keeping Smith-Shields. As the Fifita negotiations have proven, they are rarely able to acquire top level talent on the open market. Instead they need to look where others won’t. When they find that talent in their own backyard, and develop it until it’s ready to take first grade by storm, then it’s imperative it’s kept in house. It’s good to see them do that with this extension.

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