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McLinden was contracted to Canberra for another two seasons, but the Raiders did not want to stand in the way of the 25-year-old’s ambition to travel overseas.
McLinden signed a new contract with the Raiders last year, turning down an offer from English club Castleford. But the Canberra-born player had a clause in his contract, allowing him to discuss other international offers. He will join London for three seasons.
“Money has nothing to do with it,” McLinden said of his decision to leave. “The Raiders have looked after me really well, but there’s something no club in Australia could offer me and that’s the opportunity to travel overseas and experience a different culture.
“I always wanted to go to England but only when I was younger. I don’t see the attraction of going over there towards the end of my career with a family.
“This decision is harder than you can imagine. It’s a total unknown, it’s scary, but the Raiders have been great. The club has looked after me ever since I started and that makes it even harder to leave. I’ll miss it and the fans. It’s a place I feel comfortable and a place I’ve enjoyed.
“I’ll always feel like I’m a Canberra Raider boy and at the end of my [London] deal there’s every possibility I’ll be back.”
McLinden has been invited to continue training with Raiders until he leaves for England early next month.
Raiders coach Matt Elliott said the club was not in the market for a player to replace McLinden. The Raiders have recruited halves Lincoln Withers (Dragons) and Jason Smith (Hull, UK), while they will show faith in exciting juniors Todd Carney, Terry Campese and two-time Australian Schoolboy Michael Dobson.
“It’s not going to be easy to replace Mark, but we’re secure we won’t have to buy another player,’’ Elliott said. “We’ve got lots of halfback cover.
“Mark’s been a tremendous asset to us on and off the field and we’re sad to see him go. But he’s always expressed a desire to experience other cultures and he feels like he wants to go abroad. It would be ridiculous for us to stand in his way.”
A dedicated clubman in his seven seasons of first grade, McLinden felt the Raiders had a bright future.
“I’m as passionate about the club as I ever have been and I want the Raiders to succeed. I think the club’s in a good position, getting Lincoln Withers here was good for them.
“I’ve looked at our depth and our young fellas coming through. It’s going to create some good opportunities for the young guys there. Todd Carney played for the junior Kangaraoos just a few weeks ago and I think he’s almost ready to take it up. Terry Campese has been injured a bit this year and we haven’t seen the best of him, but the few games he did play this year he looked at home.”
Raiders chief executive officer Simon Hawkins said McLinden had been a great ambassador for the club. He said McLinden would be welcomed back in the future.
“We’re disappointed to lose someone that’s been with us for so long, but we certainly wouldn’t hold him back from exploring opportunities,’’ Hawkins said. “We’d be keen to have him back if he chooses to come back to the NRL down the track.’’
MARK McLINDEN DOB: 8/7/1979, in Canberra Junior club: West Belconnen
Height: 176cm Weight: 83kg NRL Games: 164, all with the Raiders Achievements: 1995: won the SG Ball (U17) premiership with the Raiders, undefeated. 1996-97: Australian Schoolboys. 1998: Burst on to the scene for the Raiders, being named the NRL’s Rookie of the Year. He was then selected to play with the junior Australian Kangaroos. 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004: Played in the NRL Finals Series. 2001: NSW Country Origin representative.