David Shillington. Photo: Supplied
THE TURF war between the Canberra Raiders and Greater Western Sydney has spilled into the Riverina, with Raiders boss Don Furner labelling the AFL as mercenaries following Wagga City Council's decision to pile $300,000 into the Giants' coffers.
A three-year deal was struck last week for the GWS to host pre-season games and community camps in Wagga, but the Raiders privately feel the Giants are holding the city to ransom.
The Raiders are fuming after spending 30 years staging regular pre-season trials and helping develop talent in the Riverina for no financial reward.
The NRL club played the Bulldogs in a pre-season trial in February which raised well over $40,000, all of which was used to improve the facilities at Wagga's multi-sport complex Equex Centre.
NRL chief David Gallop will meet with the Wagga council about what he perceives as favourable treatment toward the AFL.
In March, Furner said it would be a ''joke'' if GWS called Canberra home on the back of a $26 million agreement to play four games a season in the capital for ten years.
''We're very keen to ask questions as to why [this agreement has happened], after we've been a supporter of that region for so long and doing it off our own steam,'' Furner said.
''We've not put our hand out, and to be brutally honest it highlights how mercenary the AFL is, they're very aggressive.
''I tend to get disappointed because I feel that they certainly throw the 'community' word around a lot … well we're two hours from Wagga, we recruit a lot of players and play trials there.
''Certainly we want to catch up with the Wagga council, put our case forward and say 'what are we doing wrong'.''
Around $30,000 was spent by the council to cover the accommodation and travel costs of the Bulldogs and Raiders in February, with all profits from the match remaining with Wagga rugby league.
''The reasons why clubs like us and the Bulldogs take games out to the country is it gives that region a chance to make some money,'' Furner said. ''The money stays there for the benefit of the sport, and it's a way we can give something back.''
Current Raiders squad members such as Glen Buttriss and Josh McCrone are Riverina products, while past players such as Simon Woolford, Luke Davico, Brett Mullins and Laurie Daley all hail from the region.
''If we take a kid from the Riverina and bring him into our system, we have to pay a $5000 development fee and that money goes straight back into country rugby league,'' Furner said.
''We and the Bulldogs inadvertently raised about $50,000 in that area and we didn't take the money out of the town, the local rugby league invested it into the Equex Centre. That is a council-owned property, and we helped raise money for it.''
Gallop said in Wagga's The Daily Advertiser he would be seeking answers on the logic behind the council's decision.
''I know that the local leagues would like to understand just what the terms of the council investment are and we would certainly be interested in talking with the council to see why there is not similar support for rugby league,'' Gallop said. ''It is certainly an unusual step for a council to invest in a Sydney AFL club that already boasts publicly about its financial backing.''