The coming cliff


As of 1 November this year, nearly the entire Canberra Raiders top 30 will either be on the market, or without a contract.

I’d list them for you but it’s easier to just tell you who’s signature isn’t up for grabs this side of Christmas. That inventory goes Papa, Taps, Corey Harawira-Naera, Xavier Savage, the Red Horse and the legend Matt Timoko. Everyone else is either off-contract (as in doesn’t have a deal beyond this year) or on the market. This of course is because of the NRL’s generous system that gives players a full year heads up to sign contracts if they want. From 1 November 2023 they’ll be signing deals for 2025.

So in a sense it’s no surprise that so much of the squad is in contract limbo. Most teams operate on two-year cycles – two-year deals are the standard, and only core players get longer. That way they have the flexibility to shed players and steer the squad in a strategic sense. But it does feel like the Milk have a bigger than usual cohort to deal with this off-season. 17 players hit the market on 1 November in addition to 7 players already ‘on the market’. This may be by design, or possibly also some unscheduled changes after last season (Canberra did want to keep Adam Elliott, Ryan Sutton, and Harry Rushton before other opportunities came knocking).

However they got to this point it represents a challenge for Don Furner and list manager Joel Carbone to work through. There’s a mix of talent there. A star like Jack Wighton is probably searching for his last big deal. Hudson Young is probably searching for his first big one. Decisions have to be made on the long-term futures of fringe first-graders like Brad Schneider, Albert Hopoate, Emre Guler, Zac Woolford, Harley Smith-Shields, James Schiller. The future of players we’ve instilled hope in but have not enough tape to know if it’s worthy like Adrian Trevilyan and Clay Webb will need to be decided on. Then what to do about ageing legends like Jarrod Croker and Elliott Whitehead.

In a sense it’s a stress-test about what the club thinks of its roster. Is it a star short of contention? Is the talent there and just needs time and space to work out? Is a wholesale clear out required? Theoretically a whole new roster could be in place for the 2025 season. Who is signed, and who isn’t, should give a clear idea of where strengths and weaknesses have been identified.

An example – all four of Canberra’s rakes are part of this grouping. The Raiders need to have a clear idea of not just whether Adrian Trevilyan is worth keeping around long-term (heck yes) but also where Tom Starling, Zac Woolford and Danny Levi fit into that story. All three of them have signed their current deals since the start of last year, yet their fortunes have all changed dramatically in that time. Tom Starling has gone from the heir apparent to rotation hooker. Zac Woolford has gone to the stables to the top line, back to Cup footy and finally back to first grade. Danny Levi has gone from out of the league to the first option, and is now watching 10 weeks of footy because of misfortune.

This story can be told at other positions and the hope is that Canberra has a clear idea of who is worth the investment (preferably without the involvement of an overhead projector). The guess about who will work out is a game of expertise but also luck. It’s a not one single problem but rather 24 questions that have to be answered. God speed Don.

Most of this can start already. You can sign an extension at your ‘home’ club prior to 1 November so I wouldn’t be surprised if certain players are rounded up before they hit the market so to speak. Who we here rumours about will be a guide to the prioritisation driving that, but it won’t be perfect. Some players will sign for a minimum extension, happy to have certainty. Most others will be encouraged to at least test the market. That’s the bit I hate.

It’s not going to be solved quickly. But it will be interesting to see how the club approaches it.

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  1. Extraordinarily generous assessment of the value and impact the massive albatross that the Croker and to a (slightly) lesser extent Whitehead to massive overs 4 year deals have been. JC- thanks for your service & enjoy the 1.8 mill collected in reggies- clubs fault not yours. Whitehead- outstanding service but that 4 year handshake was it… next stop halfsies in pay at best, 1 year deal or 2 club option.

    They worked out about as well as Campo’s.

    “Brad Schneider, Albert Hopoate, Emre Guler, Zac Woolford, Harley Smith-Shields, James Schiller. ” Good roster management says offer minimum, allow to leave if not. Have we missed Ryan Sutton one iota instead of Pasami Saulo? Throw Levi in there too. Injury sympathy aside, saw enough again of what Manly and Knights saw which spells Super League in his future. I’m sure he fitness trials the house down. But his vision/decision and pass are crook- there’s no fixing that by now. Clear as day.

    Sure could keep half of those. But none worth fighting over for what they have shown- let them show it before you open the chequebook.

    Hoppa- great yards but wingers need to catch & FBs need pace= backup. keep as sqaddie.

    Guler- kind of like as he is Mr Reliable holds his end up vs whatever quality pack you play, yet incapable of ever dominating or influencing on his own. keep but see Sutton value/strategy.

    Woolford- skilled and smart but turns up fat and unfit after his big break in FG… makes you realise why he never made it. Let him earn it or get out of Trev’s way.

    HSS- works his ass of in the gym but has zero to show for the years of hype. Easily another Zillman. And you don’t get in bidding wars for centres when you have 2 going better ahead of him and a potential gun just behind (Morkos)

    Schiller- wingers are the one position that grow on trees. Plenty of reasonable wingers with just average pace out there. Is he better than Bailey Simonsen? No. Rotate and try again. Keep as squaddie if accepts minimum.


  2. Someone was in such a rush to crap on Croker they didn’t read the article properly!
    No “injury sympathy” for whatever’s going on in your head.


  3. Hahaha – this is laughable

    Zac turned up in tip top shape – wake up to yourself , and stop your keyboard warrior bullshit


  4. Bad and Mean – not sure you following the same game as me but maybe have a look at Woolford’s stats my friend …
    2 minutes I won’t get back reading that rubbish – some people shouldn’t have access to the internet 🤷‍♀️🤷‍♀️🤷‍♀️🤷‍♀️


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