Arguably the most significant step in the Raiders pursuit of David Fifita was reported by The Canberra Times today.
No, it’s not that Fifita (and partner Shaylee Bent) toured the facilities (presumably without picking up slack) at Raiders HQ last week. Though they reportedly did that. I bet they were impressed – the facilities are considered as good as on offer anywhere else in the league. And while this is a very good sign, it’s not as noteworthy as another, obviously associated action.
Ricky Stuart went on record. On record confirming that the Raiders were interested. That they were a good home for the Titans charger. That it was the place he would get the most out of his potential.
Specifically he said
He wants to play Origin football again and he wants to be a successful NRL player. I know we’re a club that can help him in those challenges and goals.From the Times
This is not modus operandi, or at least it isn’t for just any player chase. Stuart is usually the last man to speak on a matter. His face is rarely attached to pursuits until they’re good as sorted. We’ve noted the fact before, and we’ve seen it play out in the ill-fated pursuits of Curtis Scott (d’oh) and Matt Dufty. In each case by the time Stuart spoke up it was likely the Milk would get their man. And so the fact that Stuart went on record is unquestionably a good sign for the Raiders’ chase.
It’s also a good sign for the fit that Stuart was realistic about Fifita’s achievements and performance to date. Stuart added
I think he’s got a lot to offer to the game and it’s time he starts delivering that on the field – he even agreed to that.From the Times
It was a similar message that Jamal Fogarty got – and appreciated- from Stuart in agreeing to come to Canberra. Stuart’s pitch is “I will make you whole, and here’s where we start”. It’s a test of maturity for a player. No one likes to hear what they’re getting wrong, but it’s critical to getting better. Stuart is promising that to Fifita, and he’s not here to take spiders out for a fancy meal and a romantic movie.
Does this mean Fifita is definitely coming? Of course not. What is clear is that Sticky never puts his name to a hopeless cause. Perhaps it’s a coincidence or perhaps it’s strategic. Perhaps Stuart wants to maintain a veneer of success, an ability to portray himself as a deciding factor. Perhaps he’s a deal closer, a Holly Genarro closing the largest deal in the history of the Nakatomi corporation and we’re all Mr Takagi, appreciating the result (don’t be Harry Ellis. Never be Harry Ellis). It’s the spirit of the season after all. We’ll never know, but we do know that him speaking publicly matters.
It’s worth holding on to a bit of healthy sceptism, for self-preservation as much as anything. This has been anything other than a standard chase by the Raiders. They’ve been public from the outset, have even involved players in public overtures to Fifita. I’ve received more rumour and unconfirmed mail about than any other issue (which isn’t a lot, but it’s more than I’m used to). This has been an unusual matter, so perhaps this is yet another off-book step in a desperate aspiration to nab a star that shouldn’t be on the market. After all, Sticky said he was keen, and all he could do was guess that Fifita was too because he came to town after all. It remains more likely than not that Fifita never commits to the Green Machine.
But when the choice, as reported, is down to Canberra or the Gold Coast, and the distance between Fifita and his current club keeps getting bigger, it’s not hard to get a little carried away. The Raiders are increasingly the only viable club, the only team with their hooks in the man. What a boon it would be. A Christmas present for the ages. Fifita Navidad! (thanks Harry)
Only time will tell if our optimism is well-founded. Lord knows we’ve personally come a long way in this. We didn’t think it would happen, and if Stuart – still, an IF the size of the celebration whisky I’ll pour if we sign David – manages to pull this off he would have gone against years of the Raiders missing out on top tier talent. There’s risk associated (both in cost and to the delicate balance of team culture) but that’s a risk worth taking if it means making a leap.