OPINION: Diary of an angry Raiders fan
It's happened again. Another talented kid has joined the list of hot-footed players who've decided to be non-Raiders; a mini-squadron that would form a highly potent backline had fate ever tossed them into the same lime green salad.
Indeed one would pay good money to see Todd Carney, Josh Dugan, Anthony Milford, Blake Ferguson, Josh Mansour and James Tedesco running about together, and certainly Raiders Suits were going to pay serious money to Jimmy Tedesco. Few years, 'Teddy' could've owned Tuggeranong.
But, alas, Diary, these fractious colts of Generation-Y (Me? Y-Me?) either didn't conform to the club's – and society's – No Bad Seeds Policy, or preferred to live in Sydney or Penrith or in Brissie.
And that's all fair enough, sorta. We all make our choices.
Actually, no. It's not fair enough. It's rubbish. The club's been done over. Again.
Sure, we're probably best rid of Duges and Fergy and hot Toddy. Those cats never really bought into being pro footy players in our midst.
The loss of Milford, though, certainly pains a green man-fan. Canberra identified him as a toddler. Got him down here into The System, fed him the finest meats. And now that he's just about to emerge like a butterfly from chrysalis into a genuine superstar, he's away to Brisbane. Who already have Ben Barba.
That's not fair. And it hurts. And it's not fair.
But then, Diary, to lose Milford's ready-made replacement, a player as quick and elusive and flat-out damn good as 21-year-old James Tedesco, a player who would attract others and whom around you could build a dynasty, to lose that sort of player… after he'd signed a bloody contract … well, it's beyond the pale.
Am I angry, Diary? I am a bit, yes. To be a green machinist is to know anger. What colour did Dr Bruce Banner turn when he was angry? Damn straight.
Yet, this time, it's more resignation that it's happened, again. Mansour, the Menace, big Kevvy Proctor... at least we hadn't signed them before they brushed us. They came down and had a look, and we showed them about: There's the Institute of Sport; there's the War Memorial; there's the fine meat locker. We schmoozed them, and they weighed up their options. And we were slightly miffed they didn't choose to play for Canberra. But, y'know, pass the beer nuts.
But they weren't in our pockets. We hadn't announced them. They weren't ours. Damn it, Diary, we had Tedesco. He was ours! And now he's not. And who do we have to play fullback? No-one. Reece Robinson's a winger. Mitch Cornish is a boy. Jack Wighton could be anything in the centres, five-eighth or back row. But no. We don't have a fullback. We've been done over. Again.
But do I curse and decry and rail against the dying of the light as Other Fans might expect? Do I play out the ugly pantomime of Outraged Raiders Fan, shouting both fists at the gods and taking to talkback radio with great vengeance and furious anger? All that?
No. For that time has passed. We shouted and railed and protested that we'd Done The Right Thing and yet Carney and Dugan now play against us. That Milford and Ferguson (probably) soon would. That Terry Campese, an Origin five-eighth, was injured more than Tony Abbott's feelings. And that a forward pack weighing upwards of six thousand kilograms was not rumbling across advantage lines as it once had.
And we copped all that sweet. As sweet as we could, anyway.
Yet with Tedesco's recalcitrance, the time for anger and copping-it-sweet has passed. It's now time instead for furious… introspection. Deep introspection, the best kind.
Why, for one, is Brett White the last major "name" to come aboard? Why, even with a fistful of dollars and a blue-sky salary cap, can Canberra not entice and keep the game's elite? Why is Canberra so on the nose?
For mine, Diary, the problem is Canberra itself. Well, it's not a problem. It's a fine city-town, Canberra. What do you need in a city-town? Coffee, food, night life. Two hours to the beach, two hours to the snow. Australia's best empty golf courses. Twenty minutes to everywhere on Australia's best roads. Questacon.
Yet the joint has an image problem. A branding problem. I can hear them now, rival fans fairly guffawing into their mugaccinos, spraying forth froth and deriding Canberra as a City Without a Soul, as the lair of politicians, as a bush-capital of roundabouts, firecrackers and adults-only periodicals and videos. And while stereotypes have a semblance of truth, they're not the full story.
No, Diary, I'm talking about a perception among rugby league players that outside of playing games and training, there's nothing to do. And that it's freezing cold. And there's nothing to do in the freezing cold.
Consider: Most players only visit Canberra to play games. They spend a night in a hotel, train in the frost, play in the cold and (only occasionally of late) have the tripe belted out of them. Then they leave on a Murray's Coach covered in ice and watching a video of said beating. Then they sit around the airport. Read how badly they played. And nick off. And that's their "Canberra" experience.
So there's that.
There is also, Diary, in my opinion, a fear of Ricky Stuart. That's right – fear. I think the kids are scared of him. Of his reputation. Of his intensity. Has there been a more competitive critter in all rugby league? Stuart wants to win games like scuba divers require oxygen. And it shows. And there is yelling. The man demands. And some of these Gen-Y boys… well… y'know. Their tatts might say Carpe Diem but they don't want to seize days that are too cold.
And another reason for players' lack of desire to make the Capital home is this: players want to win. And they want to play with other good players. Melbourne's taken in more journeymen than Jerusalem. Go to the Dogs and play behind James Graham and Frank Pritchard, all those monsters. And under Des. You'll shine. And you'll win.
At Canberra, though? Hmm. Been battling for a few years. Keep threatening to sneak into the eight and beyond. Then don't. Then lose their best player. Can't get anyone else. Blood hot kids. And repeat.
And there's the rub: The less players head to Canberra, the more players don't head to Canberra. Think that's right. The Suits would be f-f-filthy about Tedesco. Player like him would've brought others. And he'd have won games.
Yet, Dear Diary, oh mute whinge-vessel, all is not lost. For mine, it's just a matter of salesmanship. To an extent.
For one, anyone who doesn't want to come to Canberra because it's too cold is so soft they're a man-sized Tontine. They can stay put. And anyone who thinks there's nothing to do in Canberra is not coming to the club for the right reason, that being to play rugby league. I mean, Canberra trains near the Australian Institute of Sport, a multi-billion dollar taxpayer-funded resource. They have the world's best sports science on tap. If you can't improve in that environment, you're not putting in.
Sticky Stuart? Maybe could sell himself better. Be more of a friend. Be more cuddly.
Actually scratch that. Stuart's about as cuddly as a short-beaked echidna. And competitiveness in pro sport is good. And Stuart's more competitive than the Aussie dollar. And all he knows is rugby league. Ask him the capital of Namibia you'll probably draw a blank. Ask him how to slide in defence to cover a ball-playing edge-runner and our Stick will whip about the salt-and-pepper shakers like chess pieces.
And finally, Diary, we should spruik that Canberra has some top kids. Always has had. Joint's a cold-climate breeding ground for hard-boned, fast-twitching super kids. Jack Wighton could be anything. Mitch Cornish steps like he's trod on a firecracker. Paul Vaughan blocks out the very moon. The kids are good. Especially if we can keep 'em.
In summary, Diary, Canberra's sell should be:
* If you think it's too cold, wear a beanie. Fans go to games rugged up like Arctic explorers. Oh, and another thing? Bring it in tight: nick off, you're soft.
* If you worry there's nothing to do, buy some golf clubs, fishing rods, water skis, snow skis and a surfboard. And on your days off play golf, fish, water-ski, snow-ski or surf (though do pack that steamer).
* If you want to improve yourself as a rugby league player, Canberra has purpose-built institutions.
* It's 20 minutes to training. And everywhere.
* Ricky Stuart has two purposes in life: He wants to win. He wants to improve You. The list of things he does not care about could fill Wikipedia.
* Canberra's kids are hot. And if they can convince them to stay – and the odd fresh one to come – watch this space in the mid-to-late 2010s.
* We're desperate.
* We have lots of money.
* Finally, if you sign a contract and then stuff us around, we'll tell the government and get the Tax Office to audit you. We're tight with them. Don't think we won't.
The views and opinions expressed above do not necessarily represent those of the NRL, NRL clubs or Telstra, its management or employees.