Sydney clubs could be willing to pay more for in-form centre Blake Ferguson. Photo: Graham Tidy
The Canberra Raiders plan to meet with Blake Ferguson on Tuesday to discuss his commitment to the club and immediate playing future, with growing fears that money may be motivating the rumours of his desired move back to Sydney.
Fairfax Media understands Ferguson is on approximately $300,000 a season at the Raiders and the destructive centre's current form could now command much more on the NRL open market.
It could be a similar scenario with rookie sensation Anthony Milford, who is said to be attracting offers double the $180,000 contract he is currently on at the Raiders.
Ferguson only re-signed with the Raiders in May, committing to the club for another two years, until the end of 2015.
Despite his off-field dramas, the 23-year-old has since played State of Origin and put himself in contention for the Australian Kangaroos World Cup campaign at the end of the year.
Almost a week since media reports emerged that Ferguson would seek a release from the Raiders, Ferguson has refused to speak publicly and extinguish rumours he wants out of Canberra.
The reports claimed the wayward NRL star wanted to relocate back to Sydney to be closer to family and his mentor Anthony Mundine.
But the 23-year-old also split with his manager and uncle Bob Sutherland on Friday, with boxer and mentor Anthony Mundine to take a more active role in advIsing him.
Mundine is not an accredited NRL agent and has not applied for accreditation. He wants Ferguson to manage himself.
Sutherland refused to speak, but issued a statement claiming the split was amicable.
"On Friday Blake Ferguson and I came to a mutual agreement that I would no longer act on his behalf. I wish Blake happiness and success in both his personal and professional sporting life.’’
The Raiders are yet to officially address Ferguson about talk he wants a release, originally dismissing it as mere speculation. But the situation will come to a head on Tuesday after allegations Ferguson was drinking at a Sutherland Shire pub on Saturday night while injured, just hours after the Raiders' loss to the Bulldogs at Canberra Stadium.
Ferguson returned to Canberra late on Monday afternoon for medical scans on his back, which will a determine his fitness for Sunday's must-win match against the Manly Sea Eagles.
But the Raiders are poised to stand Ferguson down should they find evidence he was drinking over the weekend. Ferguson has denied drinking, claiming he was just having dinner with family and friends.
Ferguson's former club, the Cronulla Sharks, and the Parramatta Eels - led by Ferguson's former coach, Ricky Stuart - are said to be leading the interest for the representative star.
Raiders officials did not comment on Monday, but would be nervous about the prospect of upgrading his contract, given Ferguson's ongoing troubles off-field. He has missed seven games in the past two seasons because of suspension for alcohol-related incidents.
The uncertainty over Ferguson and Milford's futures at the Raiders threatens to throw the club's finals hopes and future recruitment plans into chaos.
The Raiders upgraded Milford’s contract to approximately $180,000 a season in November 2012, before he had even played an NRL match. He is contracted until the end of 2014, but has asked for a release for next season on compassionate grounds because of health concerns for his father Halo.
A Raiders source said he club was prepared to upgrade Milford's contract for next year, but had not been able to even discuss striking a better deal for Milford with hIs manager Sam Ayoub.
Meanwhile, Raiders senior player Brett White has urged coach David Furner to rally the players for a meeting to address the ongoing distractions.
The Raiders may need to win their remaining three matches to guarantee a finals spot.
"I spoke to 'Furnesy' about my concerns that all of the speculation about these things could have an effect on the team and that we could miss out on the finals because of it," White told NRL.com
"I'm not sure if it affected us against the Bulldogs on the weekend. I think we probably just got a few things wrong and the score mounted up against us. But it might become too big a distraction, and if we get the boys together we can talk about trying to put things aside.
"Let's just focus on the football. Put all of that other stuff aside and tell your managers that for the next three weeks you don't want to deal with anything else.''