Written by Stuart McLennan
Photo by Getty Images
Back in 2014 Ricky Stuart and the Canberra Raiders were a frustrated group. That season, the team finished second last on the table, rising young fullback James Tedesco backflipped on a contract with the Raiders to accept a lesser deal at his existing club, Kevin Proctor backed out of a handshake deal with Stuart, while Josh Mansour and others rejected the Green Machine’s overtures. To top it off Anthony Milford, who was in good form at the time, left for Brisbane.
The talk in rugby league circles was that players didn’t want to go to the Raiders. Sydney and the coastal clubs were perceived as providing a better lifestyle and Canberra weren’t performing well on the field. Rather than sitting around sulking Stuart and the Raiders found a solution across the other side of the world.
Taking an initial gamble with England international hooker Josh Hodgson, the Raiders added fellow Englishman Elliot Whitehead, John Bateman (returned to UK), Ryan Sutton and George Williams to the roster. The club, while admittedly having some on and off field issues at present, played in a Grand Final in 2019 and went on an upward trajectory after that soul searching 2014 season.
The Wests Tigers have gone out hard to sign marquee NRL players, Latrell Mitchell and Josh Addo-Carr the most notable, without success. Again there is a feeling that high profile players don’t want to go to the Wests Tigers. Fingers are being pointed at the coach, administration, sustained lack of success or even the number of grounds the club calls ‘home’.
Recently the Wests Tigers signed Jackson Hastings (25) to a two year deal. Hastings, who has played four international matches for Great Britain, has been playing in England since 2018 winning the Super League Man of Steel award in 2019.
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While Jackson had an acrimonious departure from Manly, due to a public falling out with team mates that left him playing reserve grade, the general consensus is that he has matured and the reports from the UK have been positive.
Wests Tigers have said they will use Hastings as a ball playing utility. He may end up grabbing the half back spot that still hasn’t been nailed down by incumbent Luke Brooks.
NSW Origin Coach Brad Fittler is confident the son of Roosters great Kevin Hastings will be a good addition at Concord next season.
“What he will do is he’ll voice up. He’ll own where they are and where they’ve got to go on the field and he does that easy,” Fittler said
“You can tell he’s a real student of the game. He knows when to kick, all that sort of stuff, which Brooks falls in and out of a lot.”
There are reports that fellow Wigan Warriors team member and English international centre Oliver Gildart (24) has agreed to play for the joint venture club from next season.
Gildart is considered one of the best centres in the Super League and for some time he has expressed a desire to test himself in the best competition in the world.
Both Wests Tigers foundation clubs have a history of signing English players and Ellery Hanley, Garry Schofield and Lee Crooks all played for both Balmain and Western Suburbs in the 1980s and 90s.
At present the flow to the Wests Tigers from the ‘old dart’ is a trickle but coach Maguire, who spent two seasons at Wigan, might just open the floodgates to find much needed success.
It looks to be a better long term option than paying overs for players in the twilight of their career.