Canberra coach Ricky Stuart says he is as impatient as the club’s restless fans, but the Raiders may have to endure ”a bit of short-term pain” if the NRL franchise is to re-emerge as a premiership force in the next decade.
The Raiders have been under fire since big-name targets Kevin Proctor, Josh Mansour, James Tedesco and Michael Ennis all turned down their advances.
Before Friday’s must-win home clash against the Bulldogs, Stuart said he would not be recruiting players “willy nilly” in desperation, because it would take time to rebuild.
The Raiders have not won a premiership since 1994 and players from that grand-final win over Canterbury will be at Canberra Stadium on Friday to celebrate a 20-year reunion.
“It’s crucial we’re patient and make the right decisions,” Stuart told ABC Radio. “There is a big picture for me that five to 10 years down the track, this club is a huge force again. We have to take a bit of short-term pain at the moment. It’s probably what the fans don’t want to hear, but believe me, I’m as impatient as every mad, passionate Raiders fan out there.
“How we handle recruitment over the next two years, our development and pathways for our younger players, is crucial to where this club will be in the big picture over the long term. Unfortunately we’ve got to bide some time, make decisions and grow, or we’re just going to keep getting the same old result we’re continually getting.”
The Raiders have been the NRL’s most active player on the open market, but have failed to net any big names. Stuart earlier said he would continue an aggressive recruitment campaign.
“We are targeting some other players, [but] we’re saying no to a lot of other players, too, that never gets reported,” he said. “We’re not out willy nilly trying to sign everybody and anybody. The hardest part for my job is to stay focused and patient, I’ve got to picture where I want to see this club over the next five to 10 years.
“I just can’t rush into recruitment. What we do over the next two years is to try and put us into a position for five, six or seven years down the track.”
Languishing in 14th spot with a 4-9 record, the Raiders forwards will be undermanned against one of the NRL’s best packs because Josh Papalii (injury), Paul Vaughan (suspension) and Joel Edwards (cheek) are unavailable.
“It’s a huge challenge” Stuart said. “They’re a very big and aggressive team, but it’s the challenge we like to confront. It’s a bit of adversity we need to overcome but we’ll be OK, and I’m sure everyone selected will do their job. It will tell me a lot about our team, it will tell me a lot about our individuals.”
Stuart expects Bulldogs halves Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds to come out firing after steering NSW to its first Origin series win since Stuart coached the Blues to victory in 2005.
He credited former Raiders teammate and Blues coach Laurie Daley, who will attend Friday’s reunion.
“They’ll come back very confident, both halves, after a fabulous victory,” Stuart said. “They’ll have a real skip in their step and be hard to contain. I’m great mates with Laurie and he’s done an outstanding job. He owned Origin as a player, and now he owns the spotlight again in regards to what he’s done.”
NRL round 15: Canberra Raiders v Canterbury Bulldogs at Canberra Stadium, 7.45pm
TV: Live on WIN
Tickets available from Ticketek