In many respects yesterday (February 19) was a pretty rotten day to be a Saints fan. We saw our besties from over the lump crowned world champions with a 22-6 victory over NRL champions Cronulla Sharks, and we finally lost one of our brighter prospects following months of rumour over the future of Joe Greenwood. Yet despite the 23 year-old second row’s departure to Gold Coast Titans, things somehow don’t seem so bad when you consider that he will be replaced with former Catalans Dragons and Titans back rower Zeb Taia.
Let’s not sugar coat it too much. It is fairly deflating to see a promising academy product like Greenwood leaving the club years before he has fulfilled his obvious potential. In an ideal world we would want the side to be filled with home grown stars of international class, but the economic reality is that any player who does come through the ranks to reach the required standard will always be tempted by a move to the Australasian competition with its massively higher salary cap and, despite the weekend’s results, its vastly superior depth of quality. Greenwood’s move may not the be the last we see involving our local products over the next few years. While many don’t quite make the grade and return quickly (mostly those who join the NRL from Wigan if we’re honest) there are those who settle well down under and for whom coming back to Super League would not be a consideration for quite some time. Who knows if and when we will see Greenwood in the red vee or indeed in Super League again.
But it’s not all bad. In capturing Taia Saints have managed to recruit a player who is the real deal. Greenwood is a great line-runner who knows where the whitewash is but is far from the finished article. Keiron Cunningham seemed not to know how to get the best out of him throughout 2016 when he insisted that he operate on Saints palpably weaker right hand edge. With good coaching and perhaps a little better application on his part he may make it in the NRL and force his way into the England reckoning over the next few years. But right now he is not the player that Taia is. In his last season in Super League with the Dragons Taia was the French side’s leading try-scorer with 12 four-pointers, while he jointly led the team in tackle busts with Elliott Whitehead. Only Jason Baitieri made more metres for the Catalans side that season.
Taia didn’t quite carry that form into his one and only full season with the Titans in 2016, crossing the try-line only five times and managing just 34 tackle busts, but he remains a player who has seen it and done it in Super League who should add something exciting to a previously all-too predictable Saints attack. It’s fair to question the length of the deal with the already 32 year-old Taia handed a contract to the end of the 2019 season but in terms of his quality in the here and now Saints have landed a player who could well be one of the standouts in his position in the competition in 2017.
All of which is better than the alternative. Greenwood was entering the final year of his contract and had made no secret of both his disillusionment at Saints playing style and of his desire to test himself in the NRL. In letting him go now Saints have acquired a currently superior replacement, actually strengthening the squad for the short-term at least. Some may take a longer term view but in the context of the knowledge that Greenwood would have walked away at the end of this year for nothing let’s worry about how we fill the void that Taia will eventually leave when we get to that particularly treacherous bridge.
For now it is a fine piece of business by the club, even if it does leave us rather lamenting the circumstances which have made it make so much sense.