Why can’t the Raiders retain their talent?
Luke Walsh and Josh Dugan have a disagreement during the NRL round 23, Penrith Panthers V Canberra Raiders in Penrith, Sunday Aug. 12, 2012. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Robb Cox)
As a hypothetical exercise, let me throw a backline at you. What about coming up against the following players, all in the same team?
1. Josh Dugan
2. Joel Monaghan
3. Daniel Vidot
4. Blake Ferguson
5. Bronx Goodwin
6. Todd Carney
7. Anthony Milford
How would you rate it in purely football terms? Somewhere between very impressive and premiership material? At a minimum, you would have to acknowledge it would be very exciting to watch.
Of course, that is a list of players the Canberra Raiders have – or will have – let go either for alcohol-related bad behaviour or ‘personal reasons’ over the last five years.
As likely as it is that those seven players would produce scintillating football, it is equally likely that the first post-match function would result in several of them being arrested.
Of the seven players in that list, four have played State of Origin and one, Anthony Milford, is widely regarded to be a future Maroon.
All bar Blake Ferguson are Raiders juniors, including Josh Dugan and Joel Monaghan who were born and raised in Canberra.
Arguably the most disappointing fact about this list for Raiders fans is that all the players on it left the club partway through a contract.
They didn’t hate the club; most of them were only a year or two into new contracts when they left – Carney, Dugan, Milford and Ferguson all with significant upgrades.
Dugan, Goodwin and Carney were sacked for repeated breaches of player conduct, while Monaghan fell on his sword before the club could sack him.
These four have produced varying responses from fans ranging from disinterest to disgust to something approaching hatred. In the cases of Dugan and Carney, they were the highest-paid players in the club and the future of the team was structured around them.
The other three are different. The Raiders and Vidot came to a joint conclusion that he was better off somewhere else.
The details were slightly murky around the time of his departure but the now familiar phrasem’personal reasons’ was used. I won’t hazard a guess at what that means.
Milford is in the Carney and Dugan category in terms of how he is valued by the club.
This is a kid who entered the Raiders system at 13, debuted in first grade at 19 and is the type of natural talent that you shift anyone you have to in order to accommodate.
Now he is citing his father’s health as a reason to move to Brisbane.
Coincidentally, the Broncos need a young, creative attacking player and, also coincidentally, they have a lot of money to pay that player after they told Scott Prince and Peter Wallace they were no longer required at the club – a gutsy move considering there are no obvious replacements at the club or off contract at the end of the season.
We all know Milford’s contract has a get-out clause concerning his father’s health. I wasn’t there at the time it was written but I imagine it was intended to allow Milford to return home if his old man’s heart condition deteriorated.
Milford’s agent, Sam Ayoub, believes it allows Milford to return home whenever Milford feels he needs to be close to his family.
My money is on Milford and Ayoub winning this one.
Ferguson’s case will be different again. After being suspended for seven games over two seasons for alcohol-related incidents, not to mention having his State of Origin prospects cut short, Ferguson was retained by the club in the hope that it could work with him to overcome whatever it is that results in so many poor choices.
This was a brave move by the club but after Carney and Dugan only ended up getting huge salaries to help rival clubs after being sacked, it didn’t have much choice.
Now there is talk Ferguson wants out of Canberra. He wants to go to Sydney to be near relative and mentor, Anthony Mundine.
This is despite him signing on for two seasons just a couple of months ago. Again, in a spate of good fortune for a player allegedly about to break his contract, two Sydney clubs are rumoured to have big money contracts ready for him.
At the end of the day, a club will not keep a player who does not want to be there. It is destructive for club culture and can only have negative impacts on the field. So the question becomes: what do the Raiders do?
They have long had difficulties signing big name players. When Greg Inglis, Israel Folau and Sonny Bill were off-contract, were the Raiders mentioned? Of course not. It’s not because the club doesn’t want players like that but because Canberra is not a place the big names come.
So the Raiders develop their own talent. They work from the bottom up: identifying players, coaching and guiding them through the system then blooding them in first grade in the hope they will one day become stars.
It works. Look at the list above for a start. The club has so many juniors, it can afford to supply St George Illawarra with half its team too.
But the final step is not there. The step after these young players become stars. The step that keeps them in lime green for the representative years.
How that happens is beyond me. It will require the help of the NRL to implement policies that support clubs, particularly those that develop juniors and take tough stances on wayward individuals. I am not holding my breath for that.
What would be of most use is a crystal ball to let the Raiders know if a 13-year-old hopeful will grow into an adult that behaves like Shaun Fensom and Alan Tongue, or go down the Dugan and Carney route.
Actually, even if they had that, they still couldn’t avoid the Milford situation where a well-liked, trouble-free player simply opts to leave because it suits him better. I wonder why he didn’t opt for that when he signed his last contract 18 months ago and his father’s health was at its worst.
A more cynical mind than mind might think it was Brisbane didn’t have the cash or the incentive to throw big dollars at him then – particularly, as he hadn’t yet played first grade.