Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart.

Stuart hints at three-year deal for rival player

Canberra coach Ricky Stuart said suggestions the club would only be offering two-year deals to their list of off-contract players are "way off the mark".

Amid their indifferent start to the year, the Raiders have 14 players yet to re-sign beyond this season.

The club has denied there is any such edict of two-year maximum offers when it comes to their recruitment, with Stuart hinting the club is interested in signing two players to three-year deals from next season.

"We offer contracts or extensions under no obligation to only being two years," Stuart said. "Currently we're in communication with a current player for a three-year deal and we're also in negotiation with a player outside of the club for three years."

When asked on who the players could be, Stuart declined to comment, adding they hoped to announce the news in the coming weeks.

Among the 14 players off contract at the club are several vital senior players including Blake Austin, Josh Papalii and Aidan Sezer.

Raiders five-eighth Blake Austin.
Raiders five-eighth Blake Austin. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

Junior Paulo has been linked to a multi-year deal to return to Parramatta despite the 24-year-old denying he had agreed to terms and Raiders captain Jarrod Croker saying Paulo has not told the team of his plans for 2019.

No matter what Paulo's decision is it is likely to be the first of a number of crucial free agent signings for the club as they continue to build for the future.

Leading into Canberra's clash with North Queensland on Saturday night, Stuart said Papalii faced a "benchmark test" against Jason Taumalolo, just three weeks after the former Kangaroo and Queensland forward was dropped to NSW Cup due to poor form.

"He's a great footballer Josh Papalii, an international, and I want him to get back to those levels," he said. "Josh is a big part of our team and with him starting in the pack in the team it gives us a good boost.

"The reason for (for the change) is he is playing well and I'm just giving Luke Bateman a little bit of a spell on the bench to start this week.

"He's been fantastic for us Luke Bateman, but I don't want to squeeze the lemon dry early in the season for a young player."

Canberra will face an equally desperate Cowboys side which is on the outside of the top eight staring in, thanks to their 2-4 record, the same as the green machine.

Raiders forward Josh Papalii.
Raiders forward Josh Papalii. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

The Raiders know they have to start better and limit their ill-discipline that resulted in three tries off the back of penalties against South Sydney last weekend.

"When you get three tries put on your in a few minutes, things can go out the door in regard to plans and strategy," Stuart said.

"Your playmakers are thinking tries rather than completing sets, your mind does wander, and I understand that from a coach's point of view.

"But we have spoken about that this week, if you let any team in the NRL now score three or four tries quickly, it's hard to pull that back."

The Raiders have not tasted victory in Townsville since 2006, however, Stuart said he's not reading much into the team's history at 1300 Smiles Stadium or the criticism aimed at North Queensland their captain Johnathan Thurston.

"I remember my first game I coached up there with the club and we were leading well at half-time and JT has that knack of coming back, putting the team on his back and carrying them over the line," Stuart said.