Rugby League


Sending boys to do a man's job

The Raiders are re-thinking players' transition from under-20s to the NRL side, JON TUXWORTH writes

Canberra Raiders development manager David Hamilton fears they could be in danger of ''finishing some careers sooner than they should be'' should Toyota Cup talent continue to be rushed into first grade.

Hamilton admitted the Raiders would address whether blooding youngsters from the under-20 competition straight into the NRL was hindering their development, even causing complacency in some cases.

After winning the 2008 Toyota Cup grand final against Brisbane with a side featuring current first-graders Josh Dugan, Jarrod Croker and Travis Waddell, the Raiders were tipped to be an NRL premiership contender within a few years.

But while the 2008 Broncos colts like Jharal Yow Yeh, Josh Hoffman and Andrew McCullough have blossomed, the Raiders are still wallowing in the cellar.

It prompted Newcastle legend Matthew Johns to declare this week that the Raiders youngsters were ''a million miles away'' in comparison to Brisbane's.

Hamilton, who coached the Raiders Toyota Cup side in 2010 and 2011, admitted the club was seriously looking at revamping its approach.


Canberra may follow the lead of some other clubs and send its best youngsters to play for NSW Cup club Mounties instead of Toyota Cup.

Players graduating from Toyota Cup may also be given two years to develop further, mentally and physically, in lower grades against men before entering the NRL.

Due mainly to necessity through injuries, the Raiders have been forced to blood the likes of Sam Williams, Jack Wighton and Edrick Lee earlier than intended.

''Every club wants NYC [Toyota Cup], but it's not a good grounding [on its own],'' Hamilton said.

''It's great exposure and gives the young players a profile, but you're not going to make a decision on a kid who's 20 really, and that's what we're doing.

''We're probably finishing some careers a little earlier than they should be.''

Hamilton pointed to the pathway taken by established first-grade lock Shaun Fensom as the prototype the Raiders may follow in the future.

Fensom captained the 2008 Toyota Cup side, before spending a full season at Canberra's former Queensland Cup affiliate Souths Logan. The 23-year-old won the Mal Meninga Medal as Canberra's best and fairest player last season.

''He's the most grounded isn't he?'' Hamilton said. ''He's prepared for it and gone through the grind of the Queensland Cup … it educated him. I would never hurt the NYC [Toyota Cup] team's chances of doing well, but [Toyota Cup prop] Shannon Boyd needs to go out and get whacked by men.

''They put such a massive expectation on themselves [once they enter the NRL], and all of a sudden you're playing men and they're starting to whack you.

''I just think it puts them ahead of themselves of where they're actually at … with the publicity, keeping them grounded is the toughest thing.''

Hamilton insisted Canberra's slow progress compared with Brisbane's wasn't due to inferior coaching.

He highlighted a dearth of experience, plus an inability to field a consistent side week to week, as the major reasons.

''Brisbane's got senior players in senior positions, which probably helped ground those young guys,'' Hamilton said.

''You expect them [Canberra's youngsters] to step up and be senior players now, but you have to have that continuity all the time and that's what the Broncos have been able to do.

''Have a look at the spine - the nine and seven and six and one - how many times have the Broncos had that compared to us?

''Campo [Terry Campese] with his knee, if that doesn't happen last year is probably a successful one as well, and the young players around him grow in confidence.''