Bronco business and the Happiness Index

Bronco business and the Happiness Index

In recruitment parlance it is referred to as the 'Happiness Index'.

It's not an exact science but rather a figure less than what a player may be able to attract on the open market yet still enough for their existing club to be relatively confident they will stay where they are.

According to recruitment guru Mark Hughes – the man who saw something in Johnathan Thurston that no one else did and also got Sonny Bill Williams and Issac Luke to the Bulldogs – the number can be anywhere between 10 and 20 per cent depending on the club and in an active player market such as 2017 can be a powerful bargaining tool.

Whether you are considering "mixing things up a bit" at your favourite Indian restaurant, swiping left or swiping right or considering playing footy with a completely different bunch of blokes and taking orders from a coach you are not familiar with there is an inherent fear of the unknown in many of life's decisions.

It's why clubs such as South Sydney a decade ago and now the Knights are having to pay more than market rate to attract new talent and why the Brisbane Broncos rarely let the ones they want to keep leave Red Hill.

When Wayne Bennett returned to coach the club prior to the 2015 season he was adamant that the Broncos would not see good players leave as they had done in the years prior but even the master coach has been left dismayed at the dramatically changing player market in 2017.

"We've done a remarkable job with so many players coming off contract at the club in one year."

Broncos coach Wayne Bennett

When this season commenced, more than 50 per cent of NRL players were on the lookout for new and improved deals and while Ben Hunt's big money move to the Dragons shocked many, Brisbane have executed an extremely successful retention drive in the months since.

Captain Darius Boyd will soon agree to terms on a deal that will allow him to finish his career where it began and join a heady list of talent to have committed their futures to the franchise this year despite significant interest elsewhere.

Anthony Milford, Alex Glenn, Andrew McCullough, Josh McGuire, James Roberts, Kodi Nikorima, Joe Ofahengaue, David Mead, Corey Oates, George Fai and most recently Jordan Kahu have all agreed to stay at Brisbane this year with the club also able to lure New South Wales Origin rep and premiership winner Jack Bird out of the Shire to reside north of the border from 2018.

There was more money on offer for Bird elsewhere in the NRL but the 22-year-old has never forgotten that as then coach of the Dragons Bennett visited him as a teenager battling rheumatoid arthritis, an act that left a lasting impression and convinced him to ultimately become a Bronco. 

"I don't expect you to give a rap to anyone at our club but we've done a remarkable job with so many players coming off contract at the club in one year," Bennett said after last Saturday's 54-0 thumping of the Titans.

"Peter Nolan has led that for us and we've managed to keep a core of them and get Jack Bird on top of it so we've done an extremely good job."

The cry of foul heard from elsewhere within the NRL is that being the only team in Australia's third largest city gives the Broncos a competitive advantage in the player market but their real advantage lies in their competitiveness.

It is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy that the best players will want to play for the best teams – and a cycle those at the other end of the ladder struggle to break – but the desire to play for premierships is undeniably still the main motivation among the game's elite.

"The winning culture that this club has, very rarely are they out of the finals and that's where I want to be," Jordan Kahu told NRL.com of the reasons he signed on for a further three years with the Broncos.

"You come to the Broncos and you know all that pressure is on you and teams are always really keen to play against the Broncos.

"Putting that jersey on every week is an honour." 

Not even the upper echelon of the 'happiness index' was enough to cover the difference in what the Broncos were able to offer Hunt to stay compared to the mammoth deal laid on the table by the Dragons, Brisbane forced to retire to their corner after staying in the fight to keep him for as long as was wise to do so.

In successive seasons Herman Ese'ese and Tautau Moga were rescued from the NRL scrapheap and turned into such high-performing first graders at the Broncos that they have since become prized commodities by a rebuilding Newcastle Knights.

Moga has played more games for the Broncos this season than he did in three injury-riddled years at the Cowboys and still at just 23 years of age looks as though he may fulfil the enormous potential he initially displayed at the Roosters.

When Ese'ese left the Bulldogs at the end of the 2015 season he returned home to Brisbane to play for Souths Logan Magpies in the Intrust Super Cup and spent the summer working as a furniture removalist. Two years later he will be hiring someone else to move his belongings down to Newcastle.

Last summer's bargain buy, Benji Marshall, has proven to be a shrewd and relatively low-cost insurance policy purchased by Bennett in a season in which both Hunt and Milford have been sidelined with injury but it's not a policy that on the surface is worth upgrading.

Sometime stand-in skipper Adam Blair has been given permission to negotiate with other clubs despite having a year to run on his contract but he too is someone from whom the Broncos have extracted a lot when after three average years with the Wests Tigers little was expected.

And then last week Bennett dangled a calculated carrot prior to his side taking on the Titans to let wonderful young talent Ashley Taylor know that there will always be a home for him back at the Broncos.

It may not have been intended as a down-payment on a Red Hill return but rather cause for Taylor to pause if he was as close to extending his Gold Coast tenure as Titans officials believe he is.

After the 54-0 shellacking at Cbus Super Stadium Taylor spoke to the fact that he was in no rush to decide his future beyond 2018 and like many before him he will find it hard to resist sacrificing part of his pay packet in order to join an organisation that prides itself on assembling a roster capable of challenging for the crown each and every year.

Since entering the competition in 1988 no team comes close to the six premierships won by the Broncos and the Brisbane powerhouse has missed the finals just five times in their 29 seasons to date, on track this year to finish the regular season in the top four for the eighth time since 2000.

Those at the Broncos know that money alone doesn't buy a player happiness but a premiership within a relatively short career span will bring a smile to their face every time it crosses their mind.