Rugby League

Canberra Raiders re-sign Ricky Stuart as youngest ever player says NRL change is a stunt

The Canberra Raiders will throw their long-term faith in coach Ricky Stuart on Wednesday when they announce a contract extension that will keep the former champion halfback at the club until at least 2018.

Raiders management has finalised a deal with Stuart, opting to extend his contract beyond the end of 2016 in a bid to create stability and help the club's recruitment strategy.

Canberra's games record holder Jason Croker would have had his NRL debut delayed under proposed new guidelines.
Canberra's games record holder Jason Croker would have had his NRL debut delayed under proposed new guidelines. Photo: Chris Lane

The Raiders haven't made the finals in the past three seasons and Stuart has won 18 of 48 games in charge of the Green Machine.

But the club took big steps forward last year to show massive improvement and be on the cusp of the top eight. Stuart has also proved a savvy recruiter, highlighed by the signings of Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer.

Stuart's re-signing comes as the Raiders announce a new sponsorship deal with Denman Prospect for the 2016 NRL campaign.

In another boost for the Raiders, skipper Jarrod Croker was named in the World All Stars side on Tuesday with Jack Wighton selected on the bench for the Indigienous All Stars for the game in Brisbane in February.

Meanwhile, the youngest player to debut for the Raiders, Todd Payten, believes the NRL's proposal to prevent juniors playing first grade until the year they turn 19 could stunt the development of the code's elite young talents. 

Payten made his debut for the Raiders aged 17 years, 198 days in 1996, but under the NRL's edict included in a blueprint to be potentially enacted in 2018, he would have been forced to wait until 1998 to play first grade. 

The debuts of Canberra's games record holder Jason Croker and former Raiders stars Laurie Daley, Brad Clyde and Todd Carney also would have been delayed.

As a former Wests Tigers and North Queensland under-20s mentor, the current Cowboys first grade assistant can see both sides of the debate. 

But he feels it should be decided on a case-by-case basis, and NRL coaches who deal with players firsthand are best equipped to know whether youngsters are physically and mentally ready.

He pointed to the fact outside backs generally find it easier to make the adjustment to the NRL earlier than forwards. 

"I can understand they're trying to protect the players but there's some elite kids out there and as much as you try to hold them back, it's hard to," he said. 

"It stunts their development for one and I don't totally agree with it, put it that way. 

"It's a difficult one, I think 17's probably too early and 18 is borderline. A kid's maturity and physicality is all taken into account before they [head coaches] make their decision, they wouldn't throw someone in there if they didn't think he was ready.

"There'll be some elite players who just have it, there's no point holding them back and the fans miss out."

Payten said there's "no point" leaving elite youngsters to play against men in the NSW or Queensland Cup competitions, when they could be testing themselves in the NRL. 

"I've had this discussion with coaches in the past, what's the point of playing them in state cup against men?," he said. 

"It's all well and good to prove themselves there for a few weeks but if they prove they're good enough to play against men and you want to find out how good they are, you have to test them in first grade."

Croker, who made his debut in 1991 the year he turned 18, supports the adage "if you're good enough, you're old enough".

"I can understand both sides but if they player is ready, and obviously it is up to the coach to determine that, then they're ready," he said. 

"If they play NSW Cup anyway it defeats the purpose, it's not the NRL but it's still tough and physical. 

"Coaches these days aren't going to throw a bloke out there who is not ready, and you're always going to have those special kids coming up."

The proposed blueprint announced on Tuesday, drawn up by the NRL's Head of Game Strategy and Development Shane Richardson, includes a number of recommendations regarding player welfare. 

Other key proposals include:

- No player to be signed with an agent until he is 17, and contracts for these players should be for a maximum three-year term;

- Restructuring the National Youth Competition into a state-based under-20 competition;

- Introducing rookie contracts for the start of the 2018 season with each club allowed to sign three rookies each year on two-year contracts;

- Revamping and upgrading the State League into a Platinum League to spread the footprint of the competition into all the areas that play Rugby League

- Easing player welfare by considering additional leave, creating an international fixture window over an eight-year period and reducing the number of five-day turnarounds