Sezer backs halves to step up
The Canberra Raiders are ramping up contract talks with Junior Paulo and Aidan Sezer but in the same breath chief executive Don Furner says he's in no rush to have them re-signed before round one.
Both players are off contract this year and they have been integral parts of Ricky Stuart's plans to bring a fourth premiership to the club – or the first in nearly 25 years.
"I don't like to put deadlines on it," Furner told NRL.com. "We've just got into 2018 training by four weeks.
"Negotiations seem to start earlier and earlier each year. But we've opened talks and we'd like to get an outcome with both players."
Raiders recruitment manager Peter Mulholland was in Sydney on Wednesday speaking with manager Sam Ayoub, who looks after Paulo and Sezer.
Paulo, one of the most intimidating front-rowers in the game, arrived mid-season in 2016 after 53 NRL games over three years with the Parramatta Eels.
Sezer, who has a potent left boot at five-eighth or halfback, racked up 71 games with the Gold Coast Titans before heading south at the end of the 2015 season to link with Canberra's coach and legendary Raiders halfback, Ricky Stuart.
After a Prime Minister's XIII appearance in 2013, Sezer was picked for the NSW City side three years later.
Paulo began his representative career at the club with seven Tests for Samoa over 2016-17, including all four World Cup matches.
"Of course we want them to stay," Furner said. "But we need to know if what their expectations are, what we can afford within the salary cap.
"We're starting those discussions now. Both players are telling us they want to stay, so now we've just got to try and get to that point."
Meanwhile, Sezer knows he and halves partner Blake Austin need to take more effective control of the Raiders to steer them back towards where they were 18 months ago.
The Green Machine made the preliminary finals in 2016 but scored 130 fewer points during the 2017 season to finish 10th. The halves along with fullback Jack Wighton are entering their third year as an attacking combination. However, the fourth piece in that set – hooker Josh Hodgson – won't be there for the bulk of this year.
"It's always good having a steady spine," Sezer said on Wednesday. "Without Hodgo this year we're going to have step up a lot more and guide the boys around the park.
"Me and Austo and Jacko out the back have had a few years together now so hopefully we'll take that spine relationship to another level and really try to improve the team."
Hodgson tore his anterior cruciate ligament playing for England in the World Cup, but in tandem with his knee rehab he is also helping new No.9s Craig Garvey and Siliva Havili get up to speed.
"It is something that goes thrown around loosely. But all the boys are in good nick. A lot of the boys are the lightest they've ever been," Sezer said.
"That's only going to be good for the first few rounds when games are decided on possession and who's got the better fitness. Let's see how that holds us because all the boys are fit and raring to go."
The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs will be the first to feel this power in a February 17 trial game against the Raiders on the Sunshine Coast.
"If there was anything to take out of last year it was the last few rounds where we found a bit of form," Sezer said of the attempts he and Austin made to return to their best.
"We swapped sides there and we've been tinkering with that a lot since.
"We've had a lot of time to work on things and we've got Carry and Whitey (assistant coaches Ryan Carr and Brett White) looking after our attack this year so hopefully that can bring fresh ideas."
Sezer and Austin will try to toss up a few new tricks this year after they were targeted by opposition defences last season to good effect.
"That's always the goal as halves," Sezer said. "But without having that dominant hooker there, it puts more pressure on us but with that pressure will hopefully bring better performances."