Rugby League

Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart calls for NRL support in battle with AFL and ACT government

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has described Canberra as a footballing "battleground", calling on the NRL to invest more in promoting rugby league matches and highlighting the disparity in financial incentives provided to AFL by the ACT Government.

In a letter written to thank the club's "die-hard" members for helping to "keep the game alive" in the region, Stuart also vented his frustration that the NRL and ACT Government was not doing more to promote rugby league and the Raiders.

Ricky  Stuart declared his disappointment at the lack of ACT government and NRL support in an open letter to Raiders fans.
Ricky Stuart declared his disappointment at the lack of ACT government and NRL support in an open letter to Raiders fans. Photo: Renee McKay

The Raiders have long been critical of the ACT Government's 10-year deal with AFL club the Greater Western Sydney, who receive more than $23 million to host four games a season.

But Stuart has also taken a swipe at the game's governing body, frustrated by a lack of support from the NRL.

Just last week, Raiders chief executive officer Don Furner threatened to make further funding cutbacks to their junior development in the region unless the NRL can provide financial or salary cap incentives.

The Raiders attracted a crowd of 10,536 in rainy conditions against the Melbourne Storm on Sunday, almost 3000 more than the 7,760 fans who turned up to watch the Giants beat the Melbourne Demons in Saturday's AFL contest at Manuka.

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But Stuart, who stood sideline in rain for most of the game and soaked up the atmosphere, declared his disappointment with the NRL's lack of support in an open letter to Raiders fans.

"What interested me on the weekend was witnessing the relationship the ACT Government has with the AFL hierarchy in pulling together and promoting the recent GWS fixture here in Canberra," Stuart wrote.

"Unfortunately the Raiders don't have this same luxury. Our peak body, the NRL, don't have this type of relationship with the ACT Government and presently, do not offer financial incentives to help us continue developing rugby league here in the ACT/Southern NSW Region.  It's mainly left up to our club and our members, which is why I thanked our loyal crowd on Sunday in my post match press conference.
 
"I can't see why the Raiders don't receive more direct support off the NRL to promote and develop the game here. The stadium sold out for semi-finals for the club in 2010 and 2012 and delivered a sold out test match between Australia and New Zealand in 2013, yet we still struggle to get traction and assistance from the game in what is a battleground for the code."

The Raiders are yet to win from three home matches at Canberra Stadium this season, but their average crowd of 10,184 is slightly up on last year.

Stuart declined to comment further when contacted by Fairfax Media. But the Raiders coach said the purpose of the letter was to personally thank "die-hard" fans.

"It gets tough at times answering questions on why we can't draw larger crowds," Stuart wrote in the letter.

"I understand that us not winning at home is one reason and fully accept this fact, but as time rolls by and this great club continues to improve this will change.

"Aside from that, you and our club are keeping rugby league alive in the ACT/Southern NSW Region, and your support is not only for the Raiders but for rugby league. We are putting a lot of time and effort into our juniors and local rugby league and it's important throughout the capital region that we strive to keep the game alive and growing in these areas."