Canberra speedster Savage wants to shine in wing role

Alex Mitchell |

Canberra’s Xavier Savage is fit again and has switched from fullback to a wing.
Canberra’s Xavier Savage is fit again and has switched from fullback to a wing.

After spending a year in the NRL wilderness, Canberra young gun Xavier Savage is ready to put on a show.

The 21-year-old excitement machine will return to the top grade for the first time since round 10 last year when the Raiders try to upset Newcastle away from home on Thursday night.

Savage looked to have made the No.1 jersey his own in 2022 with a 19-game, seven-try campaign, to the point Canberra released former fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad from his contract early so he could head back to the Warriors.

But the Cairns product would make just one first-grade appearance in 2023, breaking his jaw and struggling with a hamstring niggle, before playing 13 games in the NSW Cup while reinventing himself as a winger.

Coach Ricky Stuart thinks Savage has found his feet with a monster pre-season, the youngster feeling comfortable in his shift away from fullback.

“I’ve worked my butt off and got to this point now and I’m happy with where I’m at,” Savage told AAP.

“It was just a safer option coming back from my jaw and then just slowly building into it, and I just couldn’t get there with the niggles I had with my hamstrings as well.

“I was trying to slowly build into going back to fullback, but I just couldn’t quite get there towards the end.

“I decided to stay there in that wing position. I just feel like I’m an outside back, anywhere I can use my speed, I’m happy.”

Stuart said his young talent’s recent training block was the best he’d produced at the club.

“He creates excitement … he’s a young Indigenous boy who had to find his feet,” he said.

“He’s worked really hard, and hard work gets you results. 

“Sometimes it’s a young boy who has to realise his potential, but also to have some belief in his potential … and some belief and confidence in his ability.”

Veteran back Jordan Rapana will start the season in the No.1 jumper, and Savage’s future in the Canberra side isn’t locked in, with versatile Seb Kris and 18-year-old fullback Chevy Stewart watching on from the sidelines.

But that depth is what Savage attributed his recent gains to as he fights to stay in first grade.

“There’s been a really big jump in competitiveness around the club, with a lot more younger boys here,” he said.

“The balance with the younger and older boys has been pretty good, helping each other grow as players and just making each other work harder.

“There’s been a good battle going on, but all for the right reasons.”