Tom Starling has emerged as the Canberra Raiders’ finals x-factor and armed with a new contract is ready for the big stage in Saturday’s elimination showdown with Cronulla.
A Central Coast product, Starling aspired to become the next Danny Buderus after starring in the Newcastle Knights junior ranks.
Now after development and reserve grade contracts at Canberra, Starling has emerged as key to the Raiders’ finals chances.
The 22-year-old hooker committed to the Green Machine until the end of 2022 on Tuesday – a fitting reward for a player who has toiled to reach the top.
Starling will play his first finals game on Saturday when Canberra host Cronulla – and the rising No.9 feels like he is ready for the big stage after being part of the Raiders’ squad that made it through to the grand final last season.
“Being in and among the team last year I learnt a lot about getting ready for a finals campaign,” said Starling, who won the Andrew Johns Medal as Newcastle’s best under 18’s player in 2015.
“I’ll be drawing off a few of the senior players about what to expect.
“I’m feeling good – it is exciting times.
“Everyone wants to play in an NRL semi-final.
“I’ve been watching these semi-finals for my whole life, so I’m looking forward to getting out there and giving it my all.”
Starling also has match fitness and team continuity on his side after playing 11 straight NRL games since round 10 this season.
This consecutive run of matches is impressive, but the young hooker is happy to credit the presence of his star teammates.
“It is easy with the boys around me,” he said.
“They are all very experienced players with Jack (Wighton) and George (Williams) in the halves and Charnze (Nicoll-Klokstad) at fullback.
“And I’ve got a really good forward pack, so I feel more comfortable with each game that I play.”
Starling is grateful to re-sign with a club like Canberra, saying he didn’t bother looking at other options when his contract came up.
“This club gave me a second opportunity to come down here on a train and trial deal and give me a crack at becoming a first-grade player,” said Starling, who joined the Raiders in 2019 following one NRL appearance with Newcastle in 2018.
“It was a no-brainer for me as soon as it got brought up, I was happy to stay.
“I’m pretty happy that I’ve re-signed.
“It is an awesome club.
“The people that are in the club really care about the club and that is a massive thing for me.
“I like people that care about things and want to make people better.
“It (the extension) has been a work in progress over the last couple of weeks, so I’m happy to put pen to paper before the finals and I can focus on the finals now.”