Hello and welcome to the fifth annual Tevita Pangai All Stars.
It’s been a wild ride to this point. We started this “award” because in the back of 2018 TPJ was tearing the league asunder and the Raiders were not. We were sad, and started this as a list of players that had left the team and were pretty sure that was why we were sad. Then, as the good guys turned things around, it became proof of something else. Proof that Sticky was getting his John West on, picking the best of the best and letting the others leave. Sure we loved those that had come before, but eras end and people are allowed to move on with their lives.
As time goes on our list, like the Raiders, sits in some sort of purgatory. Humpty, pre-fall (or maybe ascension?), sitting on a wall wondering what his life might be. Many of the players that have left in recent times could be a case of the Milk leaving the party before things get messy, or they could haunt the Green Machine for a while yet. With some of them like Josh Hodgson I can’t work out if i’ll be happier if they succeed or sadder.
Anyway, let’s getting cracking. A reminder. Eligibility is basically ‘players that left during the Sticky era’. I used to think it was players we made leave, but it’s impossible to ever know how much we pushed for players to stay. It’s all rumour. So let’s keep it simple ok?
Fullback: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
You could never be angry with Charnze leaving. He went home to be closer to his kids. But I will miss his unending motor, his willingness to throw his body into everything and everyone, and the sheer joy with which he plays footy. The Raiders will miss his defensive positioning and organisation. That absence that will be made all the more painful by the fact that his replacement – Xavier Savage – is already hurt.
Anthony Milford is finally knocked off this perch, which makes me happy because I’d prefer not to think of that time. Given Wayne isn’t going to play him in his first string side, and the last few years of his career, it’s weird to think that the Raiders won that transaction.
Bailey Simonsson was considered. He left, and made another grand final and (unfortunately for him) will be on highlights packages for decades after Dylan Edwards made a good tackle that was built into something it wasn’t because most rugby league commentators can’t work out how to say something is good without saying it’s the best. We’re happy for him in his new digs. He was too talented to be a sometimes player for Canberra.
Previous winners: Anthony Milford (2018, 2020, 2021, 2022)
Wingers: Bailey Simonsson and Edrick Lee
So Bailey can instead be the winger, which to be fair was his most consistent position for the Milk. He’s joined by five time TPJ award-winner Edrick Lee. Both players were essentially let go to pursue more stable professional pathways. Edrick’s position made untenable by Nic Cotric’s initial rise, and Simonsson by Cotric’s return from Canterbury.
Edrick will be a professional asset for the Dolphins this year. He gets through his yardage work, and has a good pair of wheels in space. He still has issues with occasional onset of dick-fingers. New coach Wayne Bennett specialises in making solid professionals like Edrick the full sum of their parts. So maybe we’ll end up missing him after all.
Previous winners: Bailey Simonsson (2022), Edrick Lee (2018, 2020, 2021, 2022), Nic Cotric (2021), Jordan Rapana (2020)
Centres: BJ Leilua and BRENKO
I still miss BJ. There was something magic about the things he saw in the game, and it was sad to see him leave the Raiders with such a bitter taste in his mouth (although, i’m not convinced anyone has left a Ricky Stuart team on good terms – even Charnze was punted to reserve grade for the back end of the season). BRENKO might be the closest, only because I don’t think Stuart even noticed he was gone (but I sure did). BRENKO, like his cousin, will likely thrive in Redcliffe under Bennett’s tutelage.
We could have included Michael Oldfield or Curtis Scott here. I always thought Oldfield would thrive given a proper opportunity (like he may have earned at Parramatta). Raiders-discord will tell you he had more wheels than one of those trucks hauling new cars around (apparently it’s a car carrier – who knew). I mean, just check this out.
It’s a shame it didn’t work out for Oldie. I don’t harbour such sympathies for Curtis Scott.
I just hope this list never includes Jarrod Croker.
Previous winners: BJ Leilua (2020, 2021, 2022), BRENKO (2020, 2021, 2022),
Rufio Jeremy Hawkins (2018)
Five-eighth: Aidan Sezer
It remains confounding to me that Aidan didn’t stay in the NRL, nor has he returned, after Stuart pushed him out the door. He was a talented player, and a team-oriented individual who sacrificed his own game and glory for the betterment of the team. Given a bigger role he could have been one of those people that turns up on NSW origin teams in random game threes of lost series. He could have made a good team better, or even a bad team good, given half a chance.
NB – Terry Campese has never won this award. His career was officially ended by Sticky, and to be honest if we were consistent we’d pick him. He was a god, Prometheus bringing fire back to us when the hope had all but been extinguished. Sitting in bay 72 watching Terry tear teams apart at the back end of 2008 and 2010 may have been the happiest time of my life.
Previous winners: Aidan Sezer (2022) Blake Austin (2020, 2021), Lachlan Lewis (2018)
Halfback: George Williams
George will always have a weird place in Canberra hearts. He wasn’t ‘good’ with us for long enough to truly come to love him. He’s a short-term affair that started with promise, and ended with a surprising amount of pain. We’ll never forget him, but the pain of the break up will always sting more than any memories we built together (except maybe the pass against Melbourne. You know the one).
Anyway, the only other people that could be in that spot are Aidan Sezer and Mitch Cornish.
Previous winners: Aidan Sezer (2020, 2021), Mitch Cornish (2018)
Lock: Adam Elliott
This one might hurt. the Raiders basically picked Elliott up from the scrap heap and gave him a career. They helped him rehabilitate an off-field imagine that had been less about him and more about a media with no ability to critically assess…well anything. By the time it was clear just how good he would be for the Milk, he was already being snatched by the Knights. Shame.
Mitch Barnett has had to relinquish his crown to a man with a bit more to his game. True story – last year we said that the Raiders won the Tapine/Barnett ‘trade’, but that the Knights weren’t unhappy having Barnett around. We were right and wrong at the same time. Nice.
Previous winners: Shaun Fensom (2018, 2020), Mitch Barnett (2021, 2022)
Second row: John Bateman and TPJ
John Bateman is back and it makes me incredibly sad. I preferred the Bateman that was a whirlwind of action, chaos and noise. He was so easy to support, and likely equally easy to hate when he’s wearing the wrong jersey. It’s particularly annoying because he used to play on the right-edge, a position the Raiders could use a bit of help with.
Pangai Jr will always have a spot in this side. Otherwise we’d have to think of a new name. For so long he’s tried to make the edge his own and it’s never quite worked out. Sounds like the Dogs are making him a middle this year. That’s the right decision.
Previous winners: Tevita Pangai Jr (2018, 2020, 2021, 2022), Mitch Barnett (2018, 2020), John Bateman (2021, 2022)
Props: Junior Paulo, Ryan Sutton
Far out we’ve had some good props. We’ve let go at least five props in recent times that have either represented a tier 1 nation, or played Origin footy. But most of them haven’t hurt us (yet). Junior has though. Every god damn time we play him.
Out of all of these i’m most surprised by the downfall career wise of Paul Vaughan. He always struck me as one of the most talented middle forwards the club has ever produced. But he never seemed to get his attitude entirely right. So Sticky pushed him out. Then he did the same thing at the Dragons. And then the Dogs. And now he’s playing overseas. Sticky was probably right.
Previous winners: Paul Vaughan (2018, 2020, 2021), Shannon Boyd (2018, 2020), Junior Paulo (2021, 2022), Dumamis Lui (2022)
Hooker: Josh Hodgson
I want him to do well and be well. I also know it will hurt all the more if he does well at his new home. Josh Hodgson at his best could turn the 2023 Raiders into something special almost on his own. Maybe he does it for the Eels. Maybe it all falls apart. I’ll be sad either way.
Previous winners: Siliva Havili (2022), Kurt Baptise (2018, 2020, 2021)
Bench: Siliva Havili, Mark Nicholls, Mitch Barnett, Liam Knight
How good was Hodgson and Havili working together? Siliva used to jump out with him, offer him an option off his shoulder. They would see the same things. They should be together still.
Mark Nicholls was brilliant for the Bunnies, and earned himself a pay day and status with the new Dolphins side. He won’t let them down. Mitch Barnett was great to the Knights, and now will add some starch to the Warriors side. Liam Knight is also on this list, and only because I’m not sure if Sia Soliola is eligible.
Previous winners: Scott Sorensen (2018), Mark Nicholls (2018, 2020, 2021), Junior Paulo (2018), Dave Taylor (2018, 2020), Liam Knight (2020, 2021), Michael Oldfield (2021), Sia Solioa (2022), Ryan James (2022).
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