You may recall that 26 Rounds posted his first offseason question of the year last week, asking who will play fullback for the Roosters in 2014: Anthony Minichiello or Roger Tuivasa-Sheck?
This writer spent over 2000 words and invoked some statistical analysis comparing the two. It was beautiful, absorbing and set the gold standard for 2014 rugby league writing — if the definition of gold standard includes “gratuitous use and intellectual theft of an Anchorman boner skit”.
Well, News.com.au published an article the very day the 26 Rounds piece was slated for publishing, putting the question to Trent Robinson who declared in four words: “Mini is our fullback”.
Fuckin’ News. Daring to pose the very question I posed, to the very person best placed to answer it. It rendered a masterpiece of self-serving dribble to the dustbin, it’s writer left in the foetal position in his shitty office’s corner, drenched in a pool of his own tears and self-loathing.
Not this time. Hopefully.
There are many questions that will arise throughout the year, and hopefully News doesn’t ask all of them the very moment I fucking do, especially the following:
Will Kane Evans get a run this year?
For the past three years the name Kane Evans has been on the lips of Sydney Roosters fans and most judges worth shit in the NRL. He is blessed with speed, power and size you can’t teach, standing at over six feet and five inches.
He’s played for Fiji in the Rugby League World Cup, and for the NSW State of Origin under 20’s squad. Last year he was named in the NSW Cup team of the year after tearing it up for the Newtown Jets.
Petero Civonicieva had Evans ranked among the top five young props in the game. Writing for NRL.com last year, the legendary prop said of Evans:
Kane is a guy I saw play for NSW Under-20s and he really impressed. He hasn’t played first grade yet but I can see him being a superstar of the future. Hopefully he gets an opportunity this year. Kane’s sheer speed for a big man is amazing. I remember watching him in the Under-20s State of Origin game last year when he made a break and left everyone for dead. I have been fortunate enough to get to know Kane through the Australian Fijian association and he is keen to play for Fiji – although I think in the coming years we’re going to see him put on that sky blue jersey for NSW and then Australia if he chooses that way. He is fully capable of it.
The list included David Klemmer of the Bulldogs, Aaron Woods of the Tigers, Caleb Timu of the Broncos and George Burgess of the Rabbitohs. Of those, only Timu and Evans have yet to debut. Woods has already played Origin, while Burgess ran away with the Rookie of the Year award.
Of the group, Kane Evans is the second oldest at 22 years of age, and of the two who haven’t played first grade, he’s the only one still playing, with Caleb Timu having set off on a Mormon mission for two years and possibly bound for rugby when he returns.
But Evans did come awfully close to making his debut last year.
His first opportunity seemingly came in round four against Parramatta. With Aidan Guerra recovering from a knee infection and the Roosters missing Luke O’Donnell through suspension, there was an open, unclaimed spot on the bench against a ridiculously small Eels pack.With Evans named 18th man, it seemed a fait acccompli that he’d slide up the bench into the 17.
Isaac Liu was called from nowhere and took it instead.
More opportunities presented themselves throughout 2013, and Isaac Liu kept getting them, then Dylan Napa; even Tinirau Arona got the start in round one against the Rabbitohs.
He was all set to be called up again in June with Sonny Bill Williams in doubt with a butt complaint, but Ian Schubert went Dikembe Mutombo on the Roosters’ arse thanks to the archaic second-tier salary cap rules.
He played for the Jets that weekend instead and injured his ankle, effectively ruling him out for the season.
It was a cruel way for the season to end, especially as it looked like his career was bound to take off.
Perhaps 2014 will be kinder to him. He’s one of the most hyped rookies that I can recall Roosters fans talking about. Even Roger Tuivasa-Sheck had less hype about him and the kid can sidestep bullets.
But even in those opportunities last year, Liu and Napa were preferred — and it won’t be easy for him this year. In fact, it may even be harder to get a crack in the top grade.
Let’s look at who is in the running for a first grade gig this year from the forwards: Sam Moa, Jake Friend, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Aidan Guerra, Boyd Cordner, Daniel Mortimer, SBW, Mitch Aubusson, Napa, Evans, Liu, Remi Casty and Frank-Paul Nu’uasala.
Guaranteed a start are the front row of Moa and JWH with Friend and Morts set to rekindle the hooker rotation that worked to perfection last year.
The back row — based on the Grand Final and the form each were in at that time — should be Guerra, SBW and Boyd. That leaves three spots on the bench for Aubo, Napa, Evans, Liu, Casty and Frank-Paul.
You would think Aubo would grab a spot as he just signed a three-year deal, shunning the Dragons in the process, and he provides incredible utility coverage from the back row to the backs.
So with a spot left, and barring injuries, who snares a regular first grade spot for the year?
Napa became a cult favourite, his teammates love him and he improved drastically during the finals. He played the full 80 in the minor premiership showdown in round 26 and was sensational with 32 tackles including a belter on a tryline-bound Burgess. His hustle and energy are infectious and he can lift a team with one big hit.
Plus, he’s been nominated for a Grammy and can rock a fur coat:
Liu is a big bopper who can — like Napa — play front or back row, but potentially has the better offload and can break the line. He played 15 games last year and none of them was a bad one.
Casty? He’s a bloody international and clearly a Robbo favourite, having been coached previously by Trent during his stint in Catalans. He’s robust, agile for his size and has a James Graham-like work ethic. He looks the goods.
And what of Frank-Paul? During the middle of the year he looked like the FPN of old; heavily involved and capable of making metres by the dozen with every hit-up. But by the end of the year and after signing a contract extension he’d lost his spot in the back-row to Guerra and came off the bench in the decider.
Meanwhile, Kane Evans is 22-years-old, is ranked as one of the top five young props in the game by Petero and yet to debut for the Tricolours. He’s also attempting to crack into a premiership-winning side.
Given the players already named have already established themselves somewhat, and given the sheer volume of depth in the forwards, Evans is hardly guaranteed a chance to debut this year, let alone get a regular spot off the bench. So perhaps I should rephrase the question: at one point does the cream rise to the top?
To reiterate: he was set to debut last year in round four against the Eels yet was passed over for Liu. Both he and Napa are more established at this stage, and neither had the hype around them that Evans wields. Cream always rises, and perhaps Evans is behind all those forwards on the pecking order despite his clear talent. Which begs the next question:
What if he doesn’t?
There were rumblings in 2013 — which admittedly may have been total bullshit — that he was unhappy with not getting a run. The rumours included a proposed loan to Hull KR, as well as one that the Rabbitohs were set to offer him a contract and an opportunity.
(I guess they couldn’t fit him in, what with all the Burgii at the place and with the plan to use their salary cap space to bring in Joel Reddy and Lote Tuqiri.)
He’s now 22 years old, and another season in NSW Cup will see him start 2015 at 23, which is hardly the age you’d expect a highly-touted rookie phenom to debut at in the modern era.
He’s also in the final year of his contract with the Roosters.
You’d think one of the most hyped rookies in the competition would be able to force his way in ahead of FPN, Napa and Liu, but the latter two shared the spot that many thought was Evans’ to lose in 2013 — namely, that of back-up prop. It just didn’t eventuate, and now Evans is a year older with Casty potentially holding his debut back once again.
The Roosters are not rebuilding. They are on the precipice of something special; as well placed as any club in the modern era to go back-to-back, having lost just one player from their Grand Final squad in Luke O’Donnell and replacing him with a French chap who possesses real skill.
They aren’t in the business at the moment of needing to blood young players, yet eventually a player possessing the clear talent Evans has will have to make his debut at a first grade level. But the clock is ticking: not on his career, but potentially his time at the Roosters.
Players have a shelf life typically of 10 years. It would be unreasonable to demand that Kane shorten that window by staying with Newtown another year — and there are literally 15 clubs that would kill to give the kid a run.
But is it on the Roosters to provide that taste at the possible expense of victories?
In his favour is that the Roosters had an unheard of dream run with injuries in 2013, using just 25 players all year. It’s highly unlikely that dream run will continue into 2014. With that in mind, it would be reasonable to assume that Evans will get a call up at some stage.
But we said that last year.
If he can get a few games this year, 2014 would undoubtedly see more regular opportunities open up for the big fella, with SBW heading back to rugby and Moa off contract. Should he re-sign with the Roosters for 2015 and beyond, it would show both parties that he is a big part of the future in the east.
But it also wouldn’t surprise us here at 26 Rounds to see him sign a contract mid-season for another club with money to burn. A club like the Parramatta Eels could really use some forward help, while the Tigers are in the middle of enacting a youth movement and could offer Evans the chance to team up alongside fellow Top Five Young Prop Aaron Woods.
Like Red once said about Andy Dufresne following his escape from Shawshank: some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright.
I want him to stay. The kid has untapped ability and it would absolutely suck to see it realised at another club. And perhaps the cream will rise and Evans beats out those established players in front of him.
It’s a good problem for Trent Robinson to have, and his only focus is on winning. If Evans gives him a better chance to do so, he’d have no hesitation to let him snare that spot on the bench — or even promote him to the starting side if his form allowed for it.
But it’s not guaranteed. Far from it.
The only thing that is truly certain is that Kane Evans will want a taste of first grade in 2014. And if he doesn’t get it, there are 15 clubs that will be more than happy to offer him the opportunity.