Emre Guler and certain uncertainty


The Canberra Raiders have reportedly secured the services of Emre Guler for another three two years, as reported by the Daily Telegraph and now confirmed by the club.

So far Guler has been more potential than impressive. He’ll rip through an opposition defensive line, pushing and pulling players out of his way like a bouncer grabbing ne’er-do-wells out of a pub fracas. You’ll see that run and think ‘man that guy is handy’. Then a minute or so later he’ll tackle an opposition forward with all the ferocity of a new dad putting their pride and/or joy to bed.

It’s hard to say the statistics tell a different story. He averages 77 metres a game this year, below his career average of 83 a game and well below career highs of 106 (over a few games in 2020) or even close to more impressive seasons (96 per game over 19 games in 2021). While I tend to see him as a prototypical ‘rip in and make an impact’ bench forward, he’s not made anyone miss (five tackle breaks this season), nor has he created much second phase play (six offloads for the year – which is a little bit up for him).

On a metres per run basis he’s been fine (around 8 per tilt) but if you’re an impact forward that’s just fine. He actually has played pretty heavy minutes for the Milk recently. Over 40 minutes three of the six games, over 50 minutes once. But still, zero hundred metre games. You can’t paint a picture with statistics alone, but you also can’t build a career on occasionally looking rapacious.

The trajectory is more steady climb than exponential. The eye test suggests he hasn’t made the progress of other players of his generation (like Hudson Young and Corey Horsburgh, both of whom Canberra are reportedly trying to retain right now). When he came into first grade in 2018 we were really excited at the possibility of someone his size and with his quick feet. Since then he’s added an ability to act as link man across the middle, but his ability to dominate a game has never come. Now he faces competition for bench spots from next generation players like Ata Mariota and Trey Mooney, and maybe they have more upside.

Emre becomes such a curious character then. Here is a player that we consider a more ‘sure’ bet, if one with lower upside. But at the same time the challenge in his game in consistency. Reliable unreliability? For three two years it will certain uncertainty. Is all that is holding back finding a way to turn one good run into a game of them, and a season? Or good hit into a game of them? It’s not uncommon for middle forwards, and why turning a low-paid middle into a consistent performer is such a boon for making a salary cap do its most.

This is why how much the Raiders are paying for Emre matters. He can and may be a quality prop. You can see a world where he’s an important impact forward. He may also be a guy that doesn’t sign another deal after this one. If they’re paying him on a club-friendly deal to be a minimum guy who plays a dozen games off the bench a season and is fine, it makes sense. If the possibility that he’ll be a game-changer isn’t high, it still exists. If he can outplay this deal it can be a big part of good season – the road to 2019 was paved with young forwards outperforming their value. The punt is low-risk even if longer than we would have thought (is three years the cost of keeping him on a low deal? Or are the Raiders *that* sure about him? I guess we’ll find out).

But opportunity cost waits for no man. The money and the cost of Guler could be spent on players with more risk but more upside. But the club are clearly sure what they have here – the Raiders know him as well as anyone. He’s 25, which means he should be hitting his prime as a middle forward over the life of this agreement. As we’ve pointed out (or more accurate, the Rugby League Eye Test has shown), production for middle forwards really hits its straps in the second half of the 20s before cratering after 30.So this deal should be the best of Emre. If he’s going to be more than squad depth it will happen in the life time of this contract.

Every time Guler tears into the line it makes me believe there’s something better there. The club evidently are similarly impressed. The eye test treats us sometimes. I hope Emre can find that impact more regularly.

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