Is there a week that goes by in the NRL at the moment where there is not some off field “news” about a Canberra Raiders player? Of recent weeks, whilst the team that I have followed for nearly two decades has been in the midst of playing the top 5 teams back to back and losing, the only news one seems to read is of players wanting a release from their contracts. Coming after the Josh Dugan debacle of earlier in the season, this constant cloud over the Raiders is almost becoming too much for this lifelong fan to bear.
I am not going to rehash all of the news of recent weeks save to say that it seems pretty clear that Blake Ferguson and Anthony Milford do not want to be at the club. In Ferguson’s case, whether he was on the grog at the weekend or not, he has shown nothing that could even be considered as resembling interest in being at the club since his return to the fold following his suspension over sexual assault allegations. The club stood behind him and now he, seemingly, not only wants to leave but cannot be bothered to watch a whole game that he was allegedly too injured to play? What a fine way to repay the faith the Raiders showed in him.
The Milford case is a sad one given his father’s illness. I would have more sympathy though if his manager was not in the press last week spruiking that his player, Milford, would consider boycotting the whole of the 2014 season if the Raiders did not grant him a release. It is important to note here three things:
1. Milford is a young man and is obviously close to his family. It is entirely understandable, as a human being, that he would want to be close to his father.
2. The Raiders have invested significantly in Milford given that they gave him an opportunity in their SG Ball side, after he had played with feeder club Souths Logan as a junior, and then the under 20 team before he hit the big time in the NRL this season. What I am saying is, this is not a player developed by another club who had been swooped upon when disaffected by the club. Simply: he was developed by the Raiders into the player he is.
3. It is pretty obvious that he does not want to be at the club next year.
That last point is the real issue for me: I just want to see a Raiders 17 on the weekend that wants to play for the club. Not one that is filled with players on the way out, wanting to be out or focused on their own agendas ahead of what is best for the club. If Ferguson and Milford do not want to play in the green jersey, then surely the best thing for all involved is to cut them lose and get players in that want to play for our proud club.
I know that is a painful suggestion given the players that the Raiders have had to give up in recent times but, in time, to have developed a squad of players who actually want to play in Canberra into a winning line up would surely be more satisfying that having to put up with the rabble we, as fans, have to put up with now.
I will always be a fan of the Canberra Raiders. It is striking though that this is the first year in my recent memory when I have not made a trip to Canberra from Brisbane to watch my team play. Indeed as close as two seasons ago I would travel to Canberra Stadium two or three teams a year. Maybe my disaffection with the NRL in general is colouring my love of my team but maybe, also, this seemingly constant wave of player disenfranchisement is also having an impact.
I crave the week, then month and then season where the team running out for the Raiders is one entirely united to cause of winning for the club and the fans. At the moment it feels like that week is a long way away.