They were once one of the NRL’s powerhouse clubs. The team everyone else wanted to be like, and yet over the last decade the Canberra Raiders have found themselves having to make do.
Struggling with financial problems and unable to attract big name players, the club looked at taking a different direction. Sure it caused some heartache for fans, but it has paid off.
By looking to stabilize the clubs financial backing (Which they have done very well) and investing in their vast junior base, the Raiders now have a very good young side that is possibly having a break out year.
Two years ago I wrote that the Baby Raiders Were A Couple Of Players Away From Being A Real Final Contenders, and it seems like that goal is close now than it has ever been (Forget about what I said about Todd Carney though!).
The side has a great pack of forwards, a great young back line and halves that have really matured and are guiding the team around the park well.
For all the hard work and effort put in, it has to be very satisfying for the Raiders and their fans.
This week however came a real reality check, with news that their very good fullback Josh Dugan has knocked back a one year contract extension that would gain him around $400,000 next year, as well as topping up his contract this year for the 2010 season.
The rumour is that somehow, the Sydney Roosters have secretly given Dugan a few ideas that if he hold out until his contract expires, they will be able to offer him even more.
If the Raiders have gone down the road to produce their own stars and then have another club swoop to pick them apart, then it is nothing short of a tragedy.
The choice that Dugan should be making should be simple. He should be able to make more money at the club that help build his career than he can at any other club. If he wants to move to another club for lifestyle reasons for less money, that fine. However no other NRL team should be able to offer him more than the Canberra Raiders.
Where is the incentive of clubs to produce their own talent when, after great investment over many years, another team can simply step in and poach a player from them? No compensation, no pay back.
The NRL always has an eye on the big market clubs, the clubs with huge financial backing when it looks at its salary cap rules. It wants to stop these teams from dominating the competition year after year as you see in English Premier League soccer or Major League Baseball.
The problem is the NRL has taken its eye off the good guys too. The dream of small market clubs that they can build a team with players from their own backyard and build a dynasty that all other clubs envy.
As a Penrith Panthers fan, I would have no problem if the Canberra Raiders were allowed to spend over the salary cap to keep players they have produced. I want to see Dugan join Gary Belcher and Brett Mullins as players you identify the Raiders number one jersey with.
If in 10 years from now we are talking about another great Raiders side, surely, that would be a good thing for the game of Rugby League.
The NRL needs to look at its salary cap rules. It needs to allow a club like Canberra to be the only place a place like Josh Dugan wants to even consider playing for.