Many raised their eyebrows when Huddersfield Giants secured the signing of an NRL Grand Final halfback.
There had been rumours for weeks that Huddersfield were interested in signing Aidan Sezer from Canberra Raiders but plenty thought they wouldn’t be able to pull it off. But the playmaker is on his way to Super League. Sezer has signed a two year deal with the Giants which reunites him with former compatriot Simon Woolford.
But this wasn’t a case of Sezer signing because he had nowhere else to go. Far from it, in fact. So much so that Canberra themselves were keen to keep him.
“We’d have liked to have kept him,” Canberra’s recruitment manager Peter Mulholland told TotalRL.
“But we have salary cap pressure as well. He could have stayed, but Aidan had one season to go here, so we thought the opportunity to get an extended contract elsewhere was the right way to go, and we’d signed George Williams.”
Like most clubs in the NRL, to a certain extent, deals can only be done by freeing up salary-cap space. There has been plenty of swapping going on down under in recent months with the likes of Ryan Matterson, Esan Marsters and possibly even Latrell Mitchell all moving clubs. And with Sezer heading to the UK, the Raiders have been able to make a move in the market, securing centre Curtis Scott’s services from Melbourne Storm on a four-year deal.
“He’s a long-term player at our club,” Mulholland said of Scott. “We’ve signed him for four years but VJ (Leilua) and Jarrod (Croker) are off contract at the end of the season. It was an opportunity to secure a good young player at a good price and then we can look at where we go with Jarrod and Joey.”
That, in part, explains Huddersfield’s opportunity to get their new stay. But what are the Giants getting with Sezer? Last year, their signing of Matt Frawley from Canterbury Bulldogs failed to light up the John Smith’s Stadium but Mulholland is confident that the Giants have got their hands on a player that can really push them up the table.
Frawley had only played 31 NRL games with the Bulldogs before his move to the UK, Sezer has played 155 first-grade games with both the Raiders and Gold Coast Titans as well as representing the Indigenous All Stars, New South Wales City and Turkey at international level. And, of course, he played a major role in the Raiders making their first Grand Final in a quarter of a century this year.
“He’s got a very good short kicking game and defensively he’s very sound,” Mulholland said.
“His game management has come on in the last three or four years. Before he was more of a runner, now he’s a game manager. He’s a pretty solid all-around player. Any halfback that can take you to a Grand Final has some ability. This is a good opportunity for them to come up the table.”
The Raiders have become infamous in recent years taking young players from the UK and transforming them into NRL superstars. Josh Hodgson has come on leaps and bounds since his arrival in the NRL as has John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead and Ryan Sutton but what’s Mulholland’s plan for Williams?
“George can organise and structure a game but both him and Jack Wighton ask questions. He will develop that structured game ability as well. Defensively he’s sound and has a good kicking game. He just needs to learn that little bit of game management, I never doubt his running game.
“I don’t think they used him properly at Wigan to be honest. I would have given him more responsibility. They tended to use (Tommy) Leuluai more than him. When the ball went to the left side, though, he was doing pretty well with it.”
Williams will be partnering Clive Churchill Medal winner Jack Wighton in the halves who made the successful transition from first-grade fullback into the standoff position. That move doesn’t always work but Mulholland wasn’t at all surprised it did.
“He’s always been a front line player. As a kid, he played in the halves and at centre so it wasn’t strange to him in the front line. We needed him there defensively.”
So with the Raiders all set to challenge at the top of the NRL once again, the Giants will be hoping that Sezer brings that winging feeling to West Yorkshire from the Australian capital.