We spend a lot of time at the moment thinking about whether David Fifita will come to the Canberra Raiders. It’s not that we don’t have other things to do. Life is busy, there are two world cups on, a third coming, and twitter has never been schadenfreude-ier. There should be plenty to keep us going between times. But in these pages we keep coming back to Fifita.
This, obviously is because he’s a very good footballer. He can break tackles at will – to the extent that the reliance on this became somewhat of a problem for the Titans in recent years and their dependence on him has revealed an abject lack of other ideas in attack. For the Raiders he would be an impeccable fit on the right edge, a place the Milk desperately need help. His purported work ethic issue would be hard to see with Sticky and Madge in his ear, not to mention the leadership of Joey Taps, the mentorship of Josh Papali’i and the guidance of Sia Soliola. He’s just 22 and not yet a complete footballer, which would lead most coaches to think they can be the one that gets the best out of him. Fifita is also apparently available for $750k a year, which is a massive discount on his current rumoured pay-packet of $1.2 million. It’s still top of the market for a good backrower, but at his best he’s an incredible one.
This alone should have a whole heap of teams interested (and likely does). Normally in these scenarios the Raiders name will often pop up as a possibility. This is usually driven by a complete and total lack of knowledge of the Milk or their roster by about 90 per cent of the rugby league commentariat. In addition, player agents will often leverage Canberra interest (either real or theoretical and driven by the aforementioned ignorance of the rugby league media) to get higher wages for their clients in their current, or other non-Milky situations. We call those cases the Raider Raise (shouts to Jack Cronin), as the Green Machine exists purely to get someone better pay somewhere else.
The thing about those cases is that the Raiders interest in those is behind the scenes. It might end up in journalist column inches through background conversations with either Sticky or Don or the late legend Peter Mulholland (or, I guess, Joel Carbone now). Indeed with Fifita we saw something similar in the initial discussions – Canberra bunched with other teams as a potential suitor. The argument for was mostly circumstantial (the chase of Shaylee Bent for the NRLW team) and little else was put forward.
But last week something changed. Don Furner stood in front of the media, in this case the glorious and handsome people over at Australia’s Washington Post, the Canberra Times and told the world that the Raiders are on the chase.
This is noteworthy, because generally the Raiders play their cards close to their chest. Most signings for the Milk aren’t high-status, so they happen when people aren’t watching. The only times we’re public about it is when it’s our own players, or someone we think we have a good shot at. As long time Canberra Times Raiders correspondent Jon Tuxworth told us once upon a time, “if there was zero hope there’s no chance Ricky goes on the record”.
Some good examples of this recently are Curtis Scott, Matt Dufty and Millie Boyle. In each of these situtations the club was clear. They wanted the player, and they were hopeful of making a deal, and they were explicit about that with the media. Not just background information or mentions in random radio shows or blogs. Rather, the club was honest and upfront about a chase, and was even quoted stating that intent. They weren’t successful in each pursuit, but it was indicative that the Milk were keen, and there was a greater-than-zero, maybe even better-than-not, chance they may succeed.
Any student of history will tell you they weren’t always successful and even when they were it wasn’t the win they’d hoped. Scott was a rumour the Raiders (in this case Sticky) stood in front of. Dufty was publicly courted for several weeks until they presumably actually watched him play and worked out he couldn’t tackle. Boyle was to be the foundation stone, until she signed with Newcastle and took Adam Elliott with her (notably, what Canberra are trying to do here with Shaylee Bent and Fifita).
So not only are Canberra interested but they are holding a measure of hope. As this saga has played out we’ve moved from laughing to perplexed to hungry to trying to avoiding getting more excited than the matter deserves. We’ve all been hurt before. But the fact the Raiders are on record is a good sign. Add to this a likely tiny increase of the salary cap to $10.3m next year (reports of $12.5m are increased payments for players outside the top 30) and perhaps my concerns that they needed more money to make this happen were ill-founded. Further mix in that David Riccio reported Shaylee Bent to the Valkyries is a done deal and maybe the Milk are on track to Boylelliot (Adillie?) this.
Despite Furner’s commitment I remain pessimistic. I note that the Canberra Times article didn’t explicitly quote Furner with a statement of chase (so to speak) but rather simply said he was keen and quoted him as saying “we are always looking at really good players”. Not quite the call to arms of other chases. Give me a cold quote from Sticky’s mouth and my ears will pique like an elf. Until then I’m still hoping for the best and preparing to be given gruel instead.
Further, the tiny increase in the salary cap is unlikely to cover the gap between the current reserve rate for Fifita’s services and his likely end price. This $750k market seems more like when a real estate agent puts the market price of a house at a lower rate than it will get in order to bring more punters to the auction. It’s just hard to see Fifita lock in a future at such a pay-cut without even trying to re-energise the market with some stellar play in the early goings of 2023. It seems more likely that this ends with him rolling it back for another year (or at least, a little bit of it).
After a thousand words of hope and I’m still leaning Raider Raise. Sorry to be the guy telling you the frogurt’s cursed. But a smidgen of light is creeping through. We’re nearly three weeks into this and Canberra is still a chance. Between God and Gary Belcher none of us know how this will play out. But hey, it’s not like we have anything else to do.