The Daily Telegraph reported that the fight for David Fifita is down to a two-horse race. The Canberra Raiders are one option, and the other is the Gold Coast Titans.
I’m not sure what happened to the Bunnies or the Dragons that would make them uninterested. Perhaps it was Canberra’s rumoured recent increase of their offer from $750k to $900k. Perhaps they recognised that keep their own talent (like Ben Hunt, or Damian Cook) would cost them more than they had previously budgeted. Perhaps they decided they weren’t interested in paying money for a player that represents an ‘all-in’ bet. We’ll take the Tele’s reporting at face value (though we’ll also roll our eyes while writing that) and assume this is true.
We’re also not sure why Fifita remains so intent on signing a deal now. My assumption it’s too make sure he gets the bulk of the free agent cash available in 2024 (a similar approach to what Dom Young’s manager has been doing recently). But as we’ve said before, our assumption was that Fifita would seek to re-establish his value as one of the premier forwards in the competition, to provide more evidence that the promise of his pre-Titans career is only not yet realised because of the shemozzle that the Gold Coast is, was, and will always be.
If those two things implied by the Telegraph report are true, then strap in and feel the Gs, this thing is about to hit max power in the next few weeks. The longer this has gone, the more his relationship with the Titans has seemed to fray. It makes sense. Would you be a happy camper in your current job if they offered you a 50 per cent pay cut to do the same job? It’s an easier pill to swallow taking a pay cut to go elsewhere, but staying where you are, doing the same job and taking a pay cut to work for the people you likely blame for ruining your market value? Bruh. I would be pissed. Royally.
The Titans hardball hasn’t just extended to cost, but they’ve proven willing to make outrageous claims in order to show just how much they don’t need Fifita. The pursuit of Jeremiah Nanai, is the Enron of pursuits (i.e. it’s value is entirely on paper and in know way, shape or form related to reality). Nanai is going nowhere (where’s he going? Nowhere!) but that’s not the point. The Titans are engaged in a game of chicken with him and his management. The strongest hand in any negotiation is held by the party that can walk away. The Titans would definitely prefer to keep Fifita, albeit at a reduced rate, but they can’t possibly let him know that.
But it does reveal a precarity to the relationship that, if we believe the Tele, means that the Titans are potentially pushing Fifita into Canberra’s arms as part of their attempt to keep him. If there was no reason for Fifita to go to Canberra it might be a small risk. But the fact his partner is likely coming to town, the fact that the Raiders are probably better positioned than the Titans to make a push for glory (and the representative honours and extra money opportunities that accompany that), and the fact that his role at the Raiders would be settled, clear, and supported by elite, experienced forwards and a club coaching hierarchy that is likely clear about how they intend to use him, are all pull factors that could bring him to the Raiders.
Canberra, for their part, are playing hardball too. According to the Tele they’ve told Fifita’s management that Fifita and his partner Shaylee Bent, are a package deal. That is, if one doesn’t come then neither will. Given they’ve reportedly near-wrapped up what is likely a life-changing deal for Bent they can’t make official because of the lack of agreed upon collective bargaining agreement, they’re putting a bit of pressure on Fifita to align his dreams with that of his partner. You might think it’s a gamble – they may annoy both enough to get neither – but like the Titans interest in Nanai it’s just a lever pulled to push Fifita in a particular direction.
The Raiders have similarly pushed the ‘Nanai’ button, with reports emerging they are interested in him too. They may well be, but this is even less meaningful than the Titans’ reported pursuit. They’re not signing Nanai, like the Titans, and it holds even less weight as a point of leverage other than to add a bit of confusion to the whole thing. The only point of import is that it might suggest the Milk aren’t optimistic of signing Fifita. It’s clear from the reporting that it’s a “if we don’t get our first choice”, which renders it pointless in drawing a decision out of Fifita. It also won’t affect the Titans to know that the Green Machine are similarly bluffing about their interest in Nanai. Just two organisations standing there nude as the day god made them.
The stakes are high and rising, and what started as a situation that seemed most likely to result in status quo is now feeling a lot more fluid. The odds of Canberra sliding in to win Fifita’s heart still feel like a long shot, but now it’s more like the chances of me getting through an article without a typo – I mean it’s still unlikely but man if we just all put our minds together we can make it happen.
Forgive me for sounding obsequious, but while the slow roll on this has frustrated, it has been well played by the front office. Whether they end up with both stars at the end of this remains to be seen. But if they end up with Fifita, an elite player who fills the one glaring hole in their side, one which would also allow them to redeploy other resources to meet other important issues, it would be stunning. Canberra hasn’t been in the market for serious talent like this in a while, and it proves the degree of difficulty in doing so. If it fails now the Raiders confirm themselves as the place that can’t get free agents (despite the obvious appeal of the National Library and Mooseheads) so there is a risk to this. But you can’t catch kingfish if you don’t get on the boat.
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