Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has vowed to push forward with his recruitment program despite several marquee targets snubbing the club's advances and Wests Tigers fullback James Tedesco reneging on a three-year, $2 million deal.
But Stuart says he will only pursue players who "have pride in our jersey" and are genuine about playing for the Raiders, but some managers are trying to use big-spending Canberra as leverage in negotiations with rival NRL clubs.
Stuart is understood to be angry at the way the Tedesco deal collapsed on Wednesday night, despite receiving a personal call of apology from the 21-year-old fullback. Stuart has twice had players backflip on deals in the past two seasons, ironically representative forward Josh Papalii breaking a three-year deal with Stuart at the Parramatta Eels last year to remain in Canberra.
The Tedesco fiasco has raised doubts over Canberra's ability to attract marquee recruits, given Melbourne's Kevin Proctor and Penrith's Josh Mansour also turned down more lucrative offers from the Raiders to remain at their clubs. Veteran Bulldogs hooker Michael Ennis is also likely to turn down a Raiders approach and will instead join Cronulla.
But Stuart said the Raiders would not retreat from their recruitment campaign.
"When I was chosen for this job, which I regard as one of the privileged coaching appointments in the NRL, I recognised, as did our board, that we needed to recruit players in key positions that would add the necessary strength around the players on our existing roster," Stuart said.
"Despite the recent disappointments of losing players whom we had identified to fulfil these roles, I want to assure, in particular, our members and fans, stakeholders and the Canberra community that we will continue to push forward with an aggressive recruitment program that's aimed at bringing deserved success to a great football club. These disappointments have only added to our resolve to achieve our goals.
"The Canberra Raiders' recent disappointing recruitment results will not alter or affect this club's commitment to developing a successful football team in the future."
Proctor's decision to stay at Melbourne was the first big disappointment for the Raiders, given the Kiwi international had given Stuart a handshake agreement he was coming to Canberra.
The Raiders were more understanding of Mansour's circumstances, given his family commitments in the Penrith area, but are concerned Tedesco's backflip has created a stigma that suggests players don't want to come to Canberra. Stuart rejects that and remains confident he can attract players.
Outside backs linked in the media to the Raiders include the Roosters' Tautau Moga, Manly's Clinton Gutherson, Cronulla's Nathan Gardner and Tigers winger Marika Koroibete.
"The amount of names being linked to our club is incorrect, in many cases it's player managers trying to leverage our club to get their player more money," Stuart said.
Stuart made it clear that the Raiders would only negotiate with those who had genuine interest in playing for Canberra. "We want players at the Raiders who share our vision and who will have pride in our jersey," he said. "We have a clear and uncompromising plan ... the Canberra Raiders will continue to seek to bring success to our organisation."
Tedesco trained with the Tigers on Thursday before his return from a long-term ankle injury this weekend. Apologetic on Wednesday, Tedesco was smiling and relieved.
"It feels like a lot of weight lifted off my shoulders, I made that decision last week [to go to the Raiders] and I probably wasn't 100 per cent with it," Tedesco said. "In the end, it was too hard to do and I'm glad I can just stay."