‘He could have been filthy’: The Raiders bromance born from rivalry and what it means in 2023

There’s a severe battle unfolding in Canberra this summer time as to who will put on the Raiders’ No. 9 jersey in 2023.

It’s Tom Starling, the person constantly advised he was too small to make the NRL, versus the late-blooming son of a gun Zac Woolford.

Starling is preventing to be the Raiders’ beginning hooker in Round 1 for the second yr in a row after going head-to-head with Josh Hodgson final summer time.

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The 24-year-old was given the job final yr after Hodgson went down within the season opener, however the Raiders then signed Woolford on a train-and-trial deal.

Woolford, 26, made his debut in Magic Round and went on to begin 16 of his 17 video games final season, recording eight strive assists and enjoying in two semi-finals.

This time final yr the son of Raiders nice Simon Woolford had lengthy given up on his NRL dream, however now desires to make sure he’s not a one-hit surprise.

Zac Woolford and Tom Starling. GettySource: Getty Images

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Starling endured an interrupted 2022 with a courtroom case hanging over his head, however on Friday fees of hindering police in a wild brawl had been dropped.

The artful hooker admits it impacted his kind however Starling is decided to place the sorry saga behind him and deal with footy in 2023.

Foxsports.com.au spoke to each gamers forward of Canberra’s first trial towards the Bulldogs in Moruya on Sunday afternoon.

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Starling made his NRL debut on the Knights within the ultimate spherical of 2018 however was launched by the membership only a few weeks later.

At simply 20, his profession was at a crossroads and Starling headed for the Queensland Cup earlier than Raiders ahead Hudson Young went into bat for his former Newcastle teammate.

Young advised Canberra officers to take a punt on the 172cm pocket rocket, and Starling grabbed his alternative with each palms – making 60 appearances over the previous 4 seasons.

Woolford captained the Raiders under-20 facet earlier than becoming a member of the Bulldogs on a two-year deal after which touchdown on the Knights in 2019 to interchange Starling.

But issues didn’t work out in Newcastle and as Covid ruined the 2020 and 2021 NSW Cup seasons, Woolford discovered himself enjoying membership rugby union in Sydney.

The hooker dedicated to the Newtown Jets final yr for what Woolford believed can be his final season in rugby league – then destiny got here knocking.

“I was going to a game at Leichhardt against the Knights and dad was being really weird and he’s normally pretty cruisy,” Woolford advised foxsports.com.au.


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“Game day morning he was asking if I was reading and this and that and by the time I got off the field he’d been in touch with a few people down here (in Canberra) and he said they’re probably going to get you down for a month for a train and trial to see how you go.

“I was enjoying Sydney and I spoke to dad whether it was going to be worth it and he said ‘of course it is, one last chance’.

“Also just a bit of (NRL) closure, I never got that, so it was a bit of a no-brainer in the end.”


They is perhaps vying for a similar spot – and whoever wins that battle can even win large on their subsequent contract – however the hookers are nice mates off the sector.

Starling delivered one his zingers when requested about his rivalry with Woolford.

“It’s good mate, iron sharpens iron,” Starling stated.

“We built up a bit of a combination there last year and it’s always good competition. I enjoy that aspect of pre-season.

“When you’re coming in and competing against each other it makes the team better and makes individuals better, I’m enjoying it.”


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Woolford wasn’t positive what to anticipate from Starling after turning up in Canberra seeking to take his jersey, however was pleasantly stunned.

“We actually get along really well, me and Tommy. It’s a funny one, I could have come down here and he could have been filthy but we get along great,” Woolford stated.

“There’s games where he’ll play the majority and games where I’ll play the majority. We obviously have different skill sets, but every game is different so whatever works.

“We play golf together and are NFL mad. He’s a good mate Tommy.”


Ricky Stuart plans to once more use the gamers in tandem in 2023 and the duo emphasise they’re prepared to play no matter function the group wants.

But make no mistake – they’re each gunning for the No. 9 jersey.

Starling admits his kind dipped beneath his personal expectations in 2022 however, together with his courtroom date behind him, is assured he’ll return to his finest this yr.

“Whatever Stick sees fit for the makeup of the team, whether it’s on the bench or starting, I’m happy to do whatever, I’m just looking to improve my game again,” he stated.

“I was a bit patchy last year if I’m being honest with myself, some of my performances weren’t up to my standard and I’m just looking to find that consistency again and take my game to the next level.


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“It could have been the off-field stuff, I obviously had a court date in the middle of the year which is not the sort of thing you want happening in the middle of a season.

“I lost a little bit of form and had to fight to get it back and found a bit in the back end of the season. Sometimes that happens and you’ve just got to bounce back. I just need to be a bit more consistent this year.”

Woolford is decided to make sure his 2022 breakout season wasn’t a flash within the pan.

“Hopefully I can perform in the trials and have that No. 9 in Townsville,” he stated.

“I’m working on my defence, I can run all day but until you’re out there playing quality opposition… a couple of times last year I was probably getting a little tired. So I’ve been working on my wrestling under fatigue and defence movements.

“The goal now is to play NRL every week. I want to be there in Round 1 and I want to be there in Round 27. I don’t want last year to be a one-hit wonder thing, I want to be an NRL player.”

Source web site: www.foxsports.com.au

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