Canberra officials have vowed to surround Todd Carney with a team capable of challenging for the NRL premiership after he turned his back on big Manly and Penrith offers to remain with the Raiders.
The 21-year-old playmaker took an each-way bet on becoming the cornerstone of the Raiders' future, signing a four-year contract extension that includes a get-out clause after the 2010 season.
Desperate to play finals football and break into the representative arena, the option on the last two years of a deal rumoured to be worth $1.8 million gives Carney the chance to reassess progress.
Doubts surround the future of coach Neil Henry, who is off contract at the end of the 2009 season and reportedly a target of both Brisbane and North Queensland.
The Raiders say they will open talks with Henry about a contract extension next week, while also declaring their intention to build a premiership force behind the talented but troubled Carney.
"Initially it was a four-year deal and it still is, but Todd has an option after two years," Raiders chief executive Don Furner said.
"We back ourselves to put a good team around him and be competitive and that he'll stay for another two.
"My understanding is that we certainly didn't win it on dollars and that we were well behind the other offers, but thankfully Todd has shown some loyalty here and has appreciated what has been done for him."
Having tied up Carney, the Raiders now want to further lock in Henry, who confirmed he'd received an expression of interest from another club.
"I spoke to him (Henry) and said that the board would like me to put something to him to extend, probably as early as next week," Furner said.
"We wanted to get Toddy out of the way first and then I'll put something to Neil next week.
"I haven't thought about dollars or years yet but I'll sit down with Neil and see what his interests are, and we'll be flexible there."
Carney had been a major target for both Manly and Penrith, but after discussions with Henry and former Raiders greats Mal Meninga and Laurie Daley, decided to remain loyal to the lime green.
The club stuck by Carney last season, resisting calls to sack him after he was sentenced to 200 hours of community service for failing to stop when directed by police, negligent driving and driving while disqualified.
"(The offers were) very tempting. The year I had last year was up and down and I sort of sat at home in bed thinking a fresh start would be great," Carney said.
"But I spoke to a few people and they said you've got to face your demons before you leave.
"They said if I didn't I probably would have taken it with me.
"But at the end of the day my heart was here, to stay here, and I guess money doesn't buy happiness and I feel I've got my happiness here."
His decision will come as a major blow to the Panthers, who had viewed Carney as the heir-apparent to former halfback Craig Gower.
Penrith will go into the 2007 season with Jarrod Sammut and Joe Williams as their halfback options, and with no recognised halves remaining on the open market, they now loom as long-term solutions in the No.7 jumper.Like