If you’re like me you were probably a bit surprised when it was reported that Sam Williams would return to the Raiders for two years.
Williams last played for the Raiders in 2016, but was driven out by a tightening salary cap position. Paying for halves depth is not a priority when you’re losing representative quality forwards like Paul Vaughan. But a year on Williams returns.
At just 26 Williams is still a first-grade quality player. For the Raiders he displayed an excellent kicking game, good organisational skills and capable ball-playing. His performance in the 2012 semi-final against Cronulla is one of the great finals performances by a Raider in a final in recent years – only Josh Hodgson’s pre-ankle injury performance against the Sharks in 2016 compares.
In 2016 he filled in for both Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin ably, showing he is capable enough to play major minutes in the NRL.
But this is not just about getting a first grade quality half. Given the tightness and ambiguity of the salary cap, why have the Raiders chosen to address this area rather than other, more pressing areas?
- The Raiders think they need halves depth.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart often noted in 2017 that a lack of squad depth had impacted the competitiveness of the side. The flow on of this was that players felt too comfortable in their positions, and this affected their performance. Williams return suggests that Stuart thought this lack of competitiveness affected the halves.
Williams is a very similar player to Sezer, so ideally they would be unlikely to play together. While Austin’s was unequivocally the weakest performer of the two halves in 2017, neither covered themselves in glory. Williams could potential push either for a starting spot in 2018 if performances don’t improve.
- They don’t think the young guns are ready
I had hoped that the Raiders may have already had the necessary squad players to fill this position. Even before Lachlan Croker’s departure, Erin Clark had established himself as a potential first-grader, being named in the 21 for several games at the back end of the season. Clark has played much of his footy as a hooker, but much had been made in the media of his suitability to the halves, so long as the bigger frame the Warriors had required of him could be shed in favour of more of the pace needed in the halves. Paul Roache had also joined the Raiders with much fanfare but he spent much of his 2017 on the injury list.
By bringing in Williams it seems the Raiders don’t think either of these young-guns are likely to push for first grade over the next two years. This is a shame but it doesn’t mean they won’t be stars. Both are still young and all reports suggest both are highly capable footballers that could play an important role in the Raiders’ future. But it is not best case scenario.
- Sezer might be on the move?
Of course if you’re paranoid like me you might take it to the worst case – that perhaps Williams is being brought in to cover for the departure of Sezer. Sezer’s two years in Canberra haven’t always been the happiest of times and there has been speculation and rumour of his potential to leave. The fact that Clark and Roache aren’t ready for first grade means the Raiders have to be alive to the potential of losing Sezer. Bringing Williams in could be cover for this. I have no idea how true this is – it’s rumour after all and I’m as paranoid as they come. But it is a greater-than-zero per cent possibility.
Regardless, these problems can be rendered moot if the performance of the halves improves. If Sezer and Austin gell in 2018 then Williams spends his time in Mounties, and the delayed development of Clark and Roache is not as important.
That is *gulp* if Sezer sticks around.