Josh Papalii takes on the Bulldogs in a trial match at Goulburn on Saturday night. Photo: Colleen Petch
Canberra’s business community has rallied behind the Raiders quest to retain Josh Papalii, with three corporates willing to provide third party sponsorship to try and stop his defection to Parramatta.
And a man who was entrenched in the ACT Brumbies camp just weeks ago shapes as the key player to keep him in the capital.
Terry Weber, a senior partner at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, stepped down from the Brumbies board to join the Raiders board earlier this month.
He told Fairfax Media on Saturday he had already been contacted by three local companies keen to provide financial help.
The Raiders were caught off guard on Friday night when the Eels issued a release announcing they had signed the 20-year-old back rower on a three-year deal.
It was initially thought the contract was worth around $1million, but Raiders management confirmed on Saturday it is upwards of $1.5million, or $500,000 a season.
Last year, Weber helped the Raiders attract sufficient third-party sponsors to re-sign star fullback Dugan on a two-year, $1.3 million deal until the end of next season.
Weber confirmed the corporates who put up their hand on Saturday are different to those which ensured the star fullback stayed in lime green.
"Already this morning [Saturday] I've been contacted by three different corporates all offering to help out as third parties [sponsors], and I told them we absolutely have to do everything to keep him,'' Weber said.
"The response already has just been great, they're all genuine and asking what we need.
"We have to try our best to keep him and it's all about what we can offer him, both from a third party side of things as well as normal contract stuff.
"Without even picking up the phone myself or going around to talk to people, they've been ringing up to help.''
Weber has a long history with the Raiders after helping several Canberra players, including coach David Furner, negotiate their Super League contracts 15 years ago.
Ironically he did the same for Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart, the man who wants to steal Papalii from the Raiders grasp.
Stuart will be in the capital on Monday for his annual celebrity golf pro-am at Royal Canberra, which raises money for autism research.
Weber admitted he was surprised at the immediate level of interest from the business community, when news of his Eels defection broke last night.
The Raiders have nurtured Papalii since the age of about 15 after spotting him in their rich Souths Logan nursery.
"I actually was surprised, I really was,'' Weber said. "This might sound funny, but I think they [fans] view him as a local already. In the sporting world [development from a young age] is as good as being local.''
Under league guidelines, a player who signs with another club cannot register the contract with the NRL until after round 13.
That gives the Raiders around 15 weeks to convince him to stay, but Weber will begin that task immediately when he meets with the corporate bodies on Monday and Tuesday.
Fairfax Media has learned the Raiders were disappointed when Papalii’s manager Col Davis only informed them on Tuesday his client had signed a contract two weeks earlier.
It’s understood Canberra was told the Eels offer was $400,000 a season, and if they could match it he would stay.
They did so, but by then Papalii had already inked his $500,000 Parramatta deal.