The Canberra Raiders are moving to extend five-eighth Blake Austin's contract, despite the Green Machine's halves coming under fire for how they're leading the team.
Austin's locked in until the end of 2018, but the Raiders have opened talks to keep him in the nation's capital even longer.
Canberra has most of their current squad signed up until the end of next season and this year they've already extended Joey Leilua (2020), Jordan Rapana (2019) and Jack Wighton (2020) beyond that.
Raiders chief executive Don Furner said, while uncertainty surrounding next year's NRL salary cap limited what they could do, they had opened negotiations to lock the squad in long term.
He confirmed Austin was one of those players.
"Yes we are. It's the same as a couple of the other ones [who are off contract next season]," Furner said.
"There's still uncertainty about where the salary cap will be at - so we're going backwards and forwards and we're in those negotiations. We want to keep him."
The halves have come under fire for the mis-firing Raiders, with Brett Kimmorley saying they'd been "very poor all year" in the wake of their loss to the North Queensland Cowboys last weekend.
There was also talk of a rift after Leilua appeared to be frustrated with Austin for not passing him the ball when the try-line was begging against the Brisbane Broncos.
A run of four consecutive losses has left the Raiders in 12th spot on the ladder and three wins behind eighth-placed Parramatta.
They need to win at least six of their remaining eight games to have a chance of playing finals.
But NSW Origin hero Brett Finch, who played 70 of his 270 NRL games for the Raiders, backed Austin's re-signing.
He said an in-form Austin was one of the most dangerous players in the NRL and backed the running five-eighth to rediscover his form.
It was only last year that Austin was in the mix to play State of Origin for the NSW Blues.
He's dropped off the radar this season, but Finch was confident he could rediscover that form.
"You see them when the team played well last year, Austin was in the talk to be in the Origin team," Fox League expert Finch said.
"He was one of the most dangerous players in the competition.
"There's going to be ups and downs throughout people's careers and sometimes you can only play as well as the opposition lets you or your team's playing.
"Canberra went on an unbelievable run last year and were pretty much unstoppable, and at the heart of that was Blake.
"He's a key player for the Raiders going forward and someone you want in your team."
Austin's statistics this season have mostly improved on his 2016 campaign - he's averaging 11.1 metres more per game (65.8m) and almost twice as many offloads (0.7), while also taking on more of the kicking duties.
On the flipside, his line breaks have almost halved (0.3) and his errors almost doubled (1.1).
It's a similar story for his halves partner Aidan Sezer, who's increased his run metres by six to 51.1m, but is missing almost twice as many tackles per game (3.6).
Former Raiders hooker Steve Walters also backed the pair to rediscover their 2016 form and felt they had credits in the bank.
"They might not be hitting their straps at the moment but … they're more than capable of it," Walters said.
"They've just got to stick at it and keep working hard and stick together. It sounds a bit corny and a bit old, but things change and all of a sudden the future looks a bit brighter.
"I think that's why everyone is a bit disappointed, because you know they are more capable than where they are on the table at the moment."
The Raiders have their final bye this weekend before facing seventh-placed St George Illawarra at Canberra Stadium next Friday.
David Polkinghorne covers the Canberra Raiders, local rugby league, Canberra Cavalry, racing and cycling, along with every other sport, for The Canberra Times.
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