The loftiest hopes of billions of Raiders fans worldwide were deflated this weekend, when the Daily Telegraph reported that the Titans were confident of retaining David Fifita.
We have obviously been focused on the Fifita-to-Canberra trail for some time, and were becoming increasingly hopeful that a deal might bring him to the Milk, but now it seems likely that he’ll stay where he is. Reportedly, the Titans believe he’ll sign an extension there prior to the start of the 2023 season.
“It’s hard to talk retention and recruitment but we’re hopeful for a positive outcome with David,”Titans CEO Steve Mitchell here.
Normally we would give weight to the more caveated parts of this quote. Mitchell followed up with comments about how they were under no illusions about the competition for him. But there are other factors that contribute to weighting the above heavily. Firstly, I note the relative certainty of the Titans’ CEO’s statement. This expression compared to Stuart and Don Furner’s more circumspect comments, suggest different levels of expectation of a result.
But more than that, the situation with the collective agreement means that clubs are making in-principle deals, unable to finalise. Similar rumblings have been heard and similar things have been said around other major deals (such as Mitch Moses extending his time at Parramatta). Without an agreement in place club’s can’t really announce deals are done. So when they say everything up to that point I’m taking notice.
A further contributory factor to this belief, the Telegraph also reported that Fifita and Shaylee Bent will be making separate decisions about their career, and that Canberra’s “package deal” has collapsed. You don’t have to be a genius to recognise that means they may be going to different cities (and that they may not be a couple anymore). This package deal aspect had always been a big part of attracting them both, and now the Milk may end up with neither. This is obviously still a moving feast, and we’ll do our best to make sure we let you know if we have any other thoughts. Lord knows no one is accusing us of under-covering this.
If our assessment is correct, there are two similar but slightly different outcomes for the NRL and NRLW teams. For the men’s team this is a shame, but not entirely unexpected. ‘Fifita to the Raiders’ had always ‘too good to be true’ vibes. He would be such a perfect fit, sliding into the right edge backrower position as cover for the ageing Elliott Whitehead. It would allow that position to be filled in the long-term, as well as cover for the other problem Canberra has, by providing depth to its 13 position. Suddenly instead of two questions, the side would be settled in the short and long term, with the addition of one of the best talents in the league.
But it always felt like it would take a minor miracle to happen. The Raiders haven’t really nailed a known, high-paid and high-status talent in the NRL era. Rather they’ve had to find talent that is either unrecognised, or recognisably flawed (either in character or output) and try to make good. The pursuit of Fifita suggested perhaps the club was hopeful that had changed. That is hasn’t shouldn’t hurt as much as it did, but you know, it’s like someone collectively took us on a date and we just found out they only did it as a dare. Back to being the wallflower I guess.
The Raiders will have to stick with Whitehead or Corey Harawira-Naera on the right edge. My hope is that Whitehead’s form in the World Cup is extended to the coming season (though given the lack of rest for his old bones, and a difficult 2022, that feels like hoping against hope). In the longer term we’ll need to keep an eye on players like Clay Webb, JJ Clarkson and Hohepa Puru.
If Bent also doesn’t come that would be profoundly disappointing. After Millie Boyle rejected the Raiders offers, Bent had been a good place to build a club from. An existing representative star, she could have been the kind of player that the Raiders could use to establish a culture of success in the new NRLW side. Given the collective agreement situation, it will be a challenge for Furner and Borthwick to find a player of similar status. The Milk say they’ve been looking everywhere for the talent for their NRLW team, but without existing stars to be part of that build it could severely impact their competitiveness in the first few years. I hope not. They deserve better.
For the naïve idiots (i.e. me) that got carried away dreaming of what could be, it has been quite the summer fling. I’ve still got sand in my shoes and I can’t shake the thought of him. A lot of fun to dream and pretend what could be. While we wanted to believe this could work in the real world, here we are confronted by the drabness of reality. There’s nothing left to do but pick up our lives and get on with it. There’s a premiership to win.
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