Canberra Raiders chief executive Don Furner has threatened further cuts to the club's junior resources - including potentially culling under-age teams - unless the NRL introduces financial incentives for player development.
The Raiders have continued their aggressive recruitment by signing Gold Coast Titans half Aidan Sezer on a three-year $1.5million deal and England international forward Elliott Whitehead within two days, Furner hopeful the club will snare up to two more high-profile NRL targets in coming weeks.
It further reflects the obvious shift in Canberra's rebuilding process under coach Ricky Stuart.
While the Raiders have traditionally focused on junior development, the club added six recruits this season and Furner admitted "we had a roster that had been here a while and maybe we needed to shake it up".
Furner is also threatening a further shake-up of Canberra's junior development process in the next year.
The Raiders have withdrawn from their catchment area in Brisbane's South Logan area and Furner said more potential cuts would be explored in the next year, including the future of teams in underage competitions such as Under-16s and U18s.
The Raiders fund four teams from U16s to NRL, and partly fund NSW Cup feeder team Mounties. Furner is leading the call for the NRL to introduce financial incentives and salary cap concessions for clubs that invest more in junior development.
"Our [Under-18] SG Ball is coming first, we've got good young kids in there, I'd hate to see them go, I'd hate to see that competition go, but we do have to examine what we do in those areas," Furner said.
"We're constantly looking at it, when I talk to other codes they can't believe we have five teams, it's expensive.
"We will never move away from the juniors because we do service a big area but, financially and commercially, how much we put into that region and that area will be heavily scrutinised in the next 12 months.
"There's not a huge incentive to keep investing the money we do in those areas. Even though you see great juniors come through, there's 10 or 12 clubs that let certain clubs do the heavy lifting in that regard and it's something that we constantly talk to the NRL about.
"It would be very easy to sit back and let other people develop [players] and just grab them at 22-23, which is what we've done with Aidan Sezer. Financially it's a better model and it's less risky. It's not part of what we do but we have to look at it."
The signing of Sezer has placed immediate pressure on Raiders junior Mitch Cornish, who comes off contract at the end of the year and is likely to be squeezed out. It's understood Cornish's management has started to approach other clubs, with Manly and Parramatta emerging as potential options.
"It doesn't mean Mitch won't be staying, although he might get opportunities elsewhere so we have to see how his form goes and what the coaches say," Furner said.
Furner said he disliked the current contracting arrangement where players are free to sign with rival clubs so far in advance, but he said it was a necessary evil. Furner said alternatives like the June 30 anti-tampering deadline or transfer windows were essentially uncontrollable.
"It happens earlier and earlier every year, like everyone else I don't like it happening this time of year, it's really hard, but if you're not in the market they're gone by May," Furner said.
"Whatever date has ever been picked ... you can never control it, so you have a rule in place that you can't control. Everybody I see talk about it says 'I don't know what the answer is'."
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