Raiders Retention Update: No News Isn’t Bad News

BY DAN

After the 2021 season, Don Furner made it clear that there were three targets for retention: Corey Harawira-Naera, Corey Horsburgh and Ryan Sutton. Alongside the then expected extension of Tom Starling (*taps fingers on desk expectantly*), it was a clear articulation of the Raiders retention priorities, but also one that acknowledged the emerging recruitment monster based in Redcliffe. Four months have passed with these players on the open market since then and we’ve heard very little.

But this is not reason to panic. There are very good reasons for that. For starters Coronavirus has put a halt on a lot of things, and while there aren’t necessarily supply issues with contracts, the virus has created a whole host of administrative problems that would put the organisations priorities necessarily elsewhere (temporarily hopefully). This is always going to slow down any and all tasks that require any outside support or the normal face-to-face discussions that can facilitate a deal. This would have been compounded by the opportunistic recruitment process for Nic Cotric at the end of last year that captured resources that may have otherwise been spent elsewhere. Don Furner is but one man (with one less support person with the tragic passing of Peter Mulholland), and while it wasn’t a massively long process, it played out over a few weeks. This would be enough to push the start of other discussion back a smidge; and then Rona has done the rest.

While deals being done before the season started is an ideal scenario, if you look at where Canberra have provided extensions to off-contract players in recent years, it’s often occurred mid-year (although it’s worth noting that most of those extensions were for emerging players). The only example I can think of in recent history is Jarrod Croker’s deal being predominantly negotiated in the pre-season before the 2020 season.

There are also specific circumstances for each player that mean doing a deal isn’t a tick-box exercise. Tom Starling’s deal was rumoured to be as good as done when he decided he would prefer to enter the New South Wales legal system instead. Legal processes are foreign to us (humblebrag!) so we make no comment on how that’s likely to turn out. Moreover the widely reported date of January 11 for Starling’s hearing appeared to not have been right. There’s a “mention” at Gosford local on the 11th (which I’m informed is just an administrative matter), and another scheduled for the 24th, but nothing about a trial or contested hearing or anything substantial like that. If someone smarter than us (so, you know, a few of you) knows better we’d love to hear it. We assume a hearing has been pushed back because of, oh I dunno, Moe coronavirus. A logical assumption is that this deal was put on ice until the outcome of the legal process was known, and in the same line of logic, that it will be finalised once it’s done. Here’s hoping that’s the case.

Corey Horsburgh is in a contract year and you can feel the pull of going home (he grew up in Caboolture – my familiarity with the region is minimal, but a map of the area says this is right next to the “The”, I mean Redcliffe). I’d be surprised if we saw a deal before before the season though. Everyone seems to be trying to work out what the Red Horse physical situation is. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been scoping every photo the various Raiders’ social media accounts post and wondering if he’s thinner, if he looks happy, like maybe I’ll be able to tell if he’s going prove his worth from afar. Safe to say if I’m doing that, then it means there’s a risk element to any approach. Perhaps the competition, the Green Machine, and all of us, are waiting to see what Corey is. With that in mind, it might not be until mid-season before we know where the Red Horse is heading.

Corey Harawira-Naera is another identified priority that seems to have a certain ‘wait-and-see’ element attached. I’ve mentioned before that there’s many variables around his time in Canberra. The lack of deal here could be driven by an uncertainty about his role, both in the short and long term. Immediately, how he fits into the starting squad is unclear, though this may likely change over the next few weeks. He’s played his best football on the right edge as a damaging ball-runner with a devastating offload. But it’s not clear if he starts ahead of captain Elliott Whitehead or future star Hudson Young (though I think he does ahead of Whitehead eventually). A further complication is the likely emergence of young bucks like Harry Rushton and Brock Gardner. A two year deal would provide coverage for their development without providing an obstacle. But if Harawira-Naera doesn’t win the edge spot in the short-term, he may have more desire to look for minutes and opportunity elsewhere. We’ll see. It seems another more likely to be finalised mid-season after more clarity about his role emerges.

There has been no news about Ryan Sutton, which makes it a Schrodinger’s contract situation. Given Furner nominated him as a possible loss to the Dolphins, it’s safe to say they can feel the eyes of Sauron other teams on him. He’s a perfect V’landysball prop with his useful passing in the middle and indefatigable nature making him indispensable in allowing other forwards to play impact roles around his solidity. I’d prefer he was locked away as soon as possible because I’m worried that at some point other teams are going to work out just what the Raiders have. I almost wish Don Furner hadn’t put him on other teams’ radar.

Contract negotiations by their nature are slow. How often have you heard ‘a deal is done’ and then waited three weeks before it’s actually final? Details take working through, and there’s a host of off-field and on-field issues that aren’t helping. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the scuttlebutt around each of these players, and what happens when game time rolls around (or *ahem* court dates). In the meantime that means nothing happening isn’t a bad thing.

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