The Canberra Raiders have received a major boost as they prepare for another finals campaign, with hooker Tom Starling re-signing with the club for a further two years.
Starling had some big boots to fill when Josh Hodgson went down with a season-ending ACL injury in round 9, but he, along with Siliva Havili, have filled the role seamlessly.
Starling, 22, played his first game of the season against the Sydney Roosters in round 10 and immediately showed he belonged in first grade.
He came off the bench and provided a spark in attack and, despite standing at just 170cm tall, showed he was more than capable defending in the middle.
Starling has played every match since then and his improvement was on full display in the Raiders’ win over the Cronulla Sharks last weekend.
With the Raiders resting a host of stars, Starling stepped up with three try assists and scored a try of his own in a man of the match performance.
It is a remarkable story for a player who was released by the Newcastle Knights at the end of 2018 and was prepared to play in the Queensland Cup for Burleigh until his good mate Hudson Young gave him a lifeline.
Young convinced the Raiders to give Starling a trial run and he was then signed as a development player for 2019 and featured in just one game before announcing himself this year.
Starling said he is grateful for the opportunity the club has given him and is excited for his first final this Saturday 3 October against the Cronulla Sharks.
“I’m really happy to get the chance to extend my time in Canberra, especially since the Raiders are the club that gave me an opportunity to train last year and get myself into their squad,” Starling said.
“To sign for a further two years is really exciting, and I can’t wait to play in my first finals game this weekend.”
Coach Ricky Stuart praised Starling’s work ethic and said he was pleased to have him at the club until at least the end of 2022.
“It’s key position at hooker and when Josh was injured, there were a lot of heads that went down. I’m fortunate because I see what work Tommy does. I see all the hard work he puts in and the work he puts into the combinations with his halves,” Stuart said.
“That’s a credit to him for sticking and committing to all his training and being patient. He got his crack and he’s got an extra two years out of that too. We’re very fortunate to have Tom Starling at the club.”