Mum's advice key to contract chaos
Jordan Rankin was just 16 years of age when his mother Tracy pulled him to one side and explained that the game he had played for love was going to soon become about the money.
The youngest player to make a premiership debut in 72 years, Rankin was just 16 years and 283 days when he was selected to play for the Titans against Newcastle in Round 22, 2008.
After an adjustment to age restrictions it's a mark that no one will ever better in future and for Rankin it provided an accelerated learning curve to the potential pitfalls when you graduate from junior status to the professional ranks.
It's been nine years since Rankin's introduction into the NRL and in that time the fascination and focus on the movements of players between clubs has gone from a sidelight to a downright obsession.
Still just 25 years of age but with the perspective of a seasoned veteran, Rankin conceded that the contract circus that has engulfed the Wests Tigers this year has been challenging for the entire playing group, Mum's wise words from all those years ago as pertinent now as they have ever been.
"I was always told when I was growing up from my mum when I first started playing grade that I loved the game and I'd play it for free but she quickly told me that it's a business and you've got to treat it like a piece of the business," Rankin told NRL.com.
"She gave me that advice and it's stuck with me ever since and slowly after time when things don't go your way and disagreements about contracts and all that sort of stuff, it all plays a part in it.
"It's one of those things that happens in our game, it's more publicised now than it ever has been before and it took me a long time to get my head around that.
"Everyone coming through the grades from the young kids that get signed to grade at 15, 16 years of age, all they want to do is play NRL, that's the dream.
"But I don't think anyone realises the rest of the stuff that comes with that. The contracts, the rumours, the papers, the media, it's a lot of stuff that a lot of young kids have got to deal with at this level and to be thrust into that at that age and having to deal with that, it's tough for sure."
Off contract at the end of what is his second season at the Tigers, Rankin made his first appearance in the top grade this year against the Broncos last Friday night, eager to push his case as Mitchell Moses's replacement in the halves alongside Luke Brooks.
The first two months of the Tigers' season have centred predominantly around the futures of Brooks, Moses, James Tedesco and Aaron Woods and Rankin admitted that other players whose futures are also uncertain can't help but be caught up in the drama.
"It does have an effect. When you're off-contract or when your name's been tossed up it's hard to ignore those things but at the end of the day speculation and rumours are in our sport because we're in the public eye," Rankin said.
"That's the way it is and some people deal with it better than others. It's just a matter of getting together as a group, understanding where you are with the club and getting that certainty from the coaching staff and the management and just moving forward and playing good footy.
"There's no doubt that the last year has been a distraction for players in all different aspects of the game, especially at the Tigers.
"Contract talks, negotiations, who's going where, who's signing who, it's an ongoing thing that happens daily and our club seems to be tossed up with every person that's off contract.
"It's something that you can't really escape. It's everywhere, it's on TV, papers, news articles and everything so we're just trying to do our best to work hard at training and making sure we're putting in the performances but there's no doubt that it's affected the playing group this year."
Although Rankin's own playing future is unclear at this stage the Tigers have already signed Josh Reynolds, Chris McQueen, Russell Packer and Ben Matulino for 2018, signings that Rankin is confident will help the club to move in the right direction under coach Ivan Cleary.
"There's definitely light at the end of the tunnel for the boys," Rankin said.
"They've made some quality signings, there's no doubt about that. We've got some quality players coming next year that are going to really take us to that next level under Ivan and the rest of the coaching staff.
"Unfortunately that's the nature of the beast really. It's a professional sport and you can end up anywhere at any given time with the way contracts are done and made and broken.
"There's any given chance that if you want out or the club wants you gone there's a chance that you could go.
"That's just how it is. It's been like that for years and it just seems that over the last couple of years it's become more often than not."