Raiders under 20 player Michael Chee-Kam is off to the Sea Eagles. Photo: Richard Briggs RCB
Emerging Canberra Raiders star Michael Chee Kam says he would have been crazy to turn down the security of a three-year deal with the Manly Sea Eagles.
The Raiders offered the 20-year-old second-rower/centre a deal until the end of 2014, but he rejected it in favour of greater first-grade opportunities and an extra 12 months at Sydney's northern beaches.
Chee Kam burst on to the Sea Eagles' radar with a string of impressive performances in the Toyota Cup, none moreso than when he scored a hat-trick in the Raiders' victory against the Brisbane Broncos last month.
''They put up a pretty good offer,'' Chee Kam said of the Sea Eagles. ''I was just thinking about my family and my future, what was best for me and having a long deal like that.
''The Raiders put up a good offer, but the three years from Manly … it was crazy not to take it.''
Chee Kam will get a first-hand look at what his future holds when the Raiders take on the Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval on Sunday.
Born in Auckland, he was spotted at a junior representative carnival in New Zealand when he was 15 and joined the Melbourne Storm's SG Ball (under 18) team.
The Raiders recruited Chee Kam in 2010 and helped in relocating his close-knit family - father Tasi, mother Sene and younger brothers Esera, 14, and 10-year-old Livingstone - to Canberra.
''I'll always be grateful to the Raiders for giving me that opportunity,'' Chee Kam said.
''I learnt a lot from guys like Joel Thompson and Josh Papalii when I was training with the first-grade squad in the pre-season.
''What it's like to be a professional footballer and what you have to do to stay at that level.''
Sea Eagles general manager of football Steve Gigg said Chee Kam was a long-term prospect and added depth to his club's roster.
The Raiders have a wealth of second-rowers at their disposal, including Papalii, Thompson, Joe Picker and Kiwi international Bronson Harrison.
Raiders chief executive Don Furner questioned how the Sea Eagles could afford Chee Kam given they are facing an uphill battle to retain their premiership-winning squad.
''We put in two very good offers for Mike, Manly put a better one in,'' Furner said.
''The figures blew me away a bit. I did actually speak to the NRL about that, because I'm amazed at how Manly could pinch him and they're struggling to keep first-graders in their cap.''
Gigg said Chee Kam wouldn't be included as part of Manly's top 25 highest-paid players next year and as such, his addition wouldn't have any impact on his club's ability to re-sign their stars.
''Michael does not come into that category and his signing is completely irrelevant to any existing retention issues that we have,'' Gigg said. ''I can understand their frustrations because it [losing junior players] happens to every club. Unfortunately it's a facet of modern football life.''