How the Raiders rebuilt the Green Machine

When James Tedesco broke the news to Canberra CEO Don Furner that he was back-flipping on his big-money three-year deal, little did the club know it would ultimately be the making of them.

With a rag-tag legion of discards, journeymen and no-frills imports, Ricky Stuart and his coaching staff have ushered in the second coming of the green machine.

Just one game away from the club’s first NRL grand final berth since 1994, the question is being asked, how did they get here?

Especially given just a few years ago the club was on the canvas after a devastating series of knockbacks from some of the game’s biggest stars.

Tedesco famously backed out of his move to the nation’s capital after being seemingly signed, sealed and delivered. Penrith Josh Mansour spurned a lucrative offer, as did Melbourne forward Kevin Proctor.

The club also lost a tug-of-war with Brisbane and Anthony Milford departed which, combined with missing out on Tedesco, opened up salary cap space to secure a number of unheralded players starting with Blake Austin.

“It hurts, particularly the ones that say yes and then change their mind,” Furner told AAP.

“It’s a real kick in the teeth but you pick yourself up and keep on going.

“We then started looking at Austo (Blake Austin) because Wests Tigers kept Tedesco and they had (Luke) Brooks and (Mitchell) Moses so Austo didn’t have a set position there.

“Out of something bad came something good.”

Having played a majority of his career off the bench and covered just about every position, Austin wasted no time in establishing himself as one of the game’s premier five-eighths upon his arrival in 2015.

It’s the sort of ‘Moneyball’ recruiting which caused the Raiders’ stocks to skyrocket.

Joey Leilua quit Newcastle after a spat with then coach Rick Stone.

His partner on the Raiders’ lethal right edge, Jordan Rapana. was pulling beers in a pub and playing park footy after a Mormon mission and failed attempts to make it in rugby union.

Hooker Josh Hodgson was considered England’s fourth-best hooker before coming to Australia and is arguably now only behind Cameron Smith as the game’s best rake.

And the Raiders wouldn’t have jagged Aidan Sezer from Gold Coast had it not been for Daly Cherry-Evans signing with the Titans – only to later backflip.

While Furner would like to say it’s all down to smart planning from Stuart, assistants Dean Pay and Mick Crawley and recruitment manager Peter Mulholland, he admits good fortune has also played its part.

“They’re all different, they all have different stories about how they got here,” Furner said.

“Some of it’s by planning and some of it’s by luck. It’s a bit of both.

“We didn’t know we were going to get Joe Tapine at the start of the year, we didn’t know the whole Parramatta thing was going to blow up and Junior Paulo got squeezed out.

“That wasn’t planning – we were just in a position to take advantage of that.”

So not only is the future looking bright for Canberra, it appears that way for a long time.

Of the club’s top 17, all of them, save for Rapana, Edrick Lee and Paul Vaughan are contracted until the end of 2018, granting the Raiders great stability and propping their premiership window open for several years.

The important flow-on is that Canberra is now an attractive destination for off-contract players, an idea that seemed highly unlikely a few short years ago.

“The people that bag Canberra came here on a school excursion when they were 14 and they got off the bus and it was cold,” Furner says.

“But the blokes that are here now are 24, 25, 26. It’s a great place when you’ve got young kids. They’re not 18, 19, 20 and wanting to get into the nightlife of Kings Cross or Gold Coast.

“But if you’ve got blokes that are a bit older and bringing up children, it’s such an easy place to live.

“Our facilities are unbelievable, it’s in close proximity to anywhere we go.

“Those guys are speaking highly so when Elliott Whitehead is calling Josh Hodgson asking ‘Should I come to Canberra?’, Josh Hodgson is on the phone saying ‘Mate, come’. “That helps.

“And winning.”

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