- $49,000 per junior: Why clubs want the NRL to fund development
- Soaring costs raise pressure for a draft to level the field
It was Canberra's last match against Sydney Roosters just 10 days ago that made Raiders officials seriously question the value of the club's $3 million per year investment in junior development.
In the Roosters starting line-up at Allianz Stadium were 12 players with Test or State of Origin experience, while the odd man out, Jake Friend, was the 19th man for Queensland in the series opener.
By comparison, Canbarra had only Josh Papalii, David Shillington and Brett White who had played at that level.
In addition, 13 of the 17 Raiders players were products of the club's development programs - the biggest junior representation in any NRL team.
Even other so called developments clubs such as Newcastle, Penrith and Parramatta have been fielding teams that are more bought than bred.
For all the time and money invested in producing players, Canberra has not won a grand final since 1994 and never seriously been considered a premiership contender in the 17 year history of the NRL.
In fact, a look at the records books shows that the NRL has been dominated in recent years by teams who focus more on recruitment than development, with Melbourne having featured in five grand finals since 2006, Manly in four of the last seven and the Roosters in two of the last four - winning last year and losing to St George Illawarra in 2010.
The only other clubs to have played on grand final day since 2007 have been Parramatta in 2009, the Warriors in 2011 and Canterbury in 2012 - all of whom lost.
At an estimated cost of $49,000 to develop a player from 15 years old to the under 20s National Youth Competition, it could be argued that the Raiders have spent millions of dollars for little return.
Many of those players never go on to play in the NRL so the club never recoups the money invested in them.
Worse, some of the best players they have produced, such as Todd Carney, Josh Dugan and Joel Monaghan, have been sacked by the club for off-field incidents, while the likes of Will Zillman, Anthony Milford and Papalii have been poached by rival clubs just as they are starting to fulfill their potential - although the latter reneged on a deal to join Parramatta and is still at the Raiders.
Dugan, Milford and Papalii are set to feature in Origin II, while Carney and Monaghan have previously played for NSW.
The loss of 20-year-old Milford to Brisbane on a big money deal after less than 30 NRL games prompted the club to launch an aggressive but ultimately failed recruitment campaign in which they unsuccesfully targeted James Tedesco, Kevin Proctor, Josh Mansour and Michael Ennis.
Raiders officials say the club spends $3 million per year on development of elite juniors and funding the local Canberra Regional competition, as well as servicing their association with Souths Logan in the Queensland Cup.
However, that is now in jeopardy as they assess whether the money would be better directed signing players from elsewhere when they are ready to play in the NRL.
By doing so, the Raiders would not suffer the heartache of seeing a player such as Milford, whom they had invested so heavily in since he was 13-years-of-age, leave just as he was beginning to repay the club's faith in him.
They would also avoid having to deal with players who are yet to reach maturity and find themselves in off-field trouble that leads to them playing for other clubs after being sacked by Canberra.
Canberra chief executive Don Furner and Raiders Group CEO Simon Hawkins met with NRL bosses in Sydney last Tuesday to discuss a game wide review of junior development.
"We are awaiting the outcome of that review and what it would look like before the stakeholders in our group make decisions on where they invest the money," Furner said.
"In the curent system there is no return from your investment and no incentive to invest in junior development."
Furner has proposed changes to the salary cap to make it easier for clubs to retain talent they have developed, which is similar to the discount system for long serving players.
Under the proposal, clubs would receive a discount on the salary cap value of players for every year he had been in their development system from the under 18s SG Ball competition.
"If the Roosters have bought Roger Tuivasa-Sheck all the way through from SG Ball, they would get it too," Furner said. "He doesn't have to be born and bred at Bondi but if they have bought him over from New Zealand and put him through SG Ball and under 20s, and he comes off contract they should get that advantage too."
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the SG Ball is an under 16s competition. It is for under 18s.