How Broncos won battle for Haas
The magic dust that keeps players at the Brisbane Broncos on less money than they can garner elsewhere has not lost any glitter.
The Broncos confirmed on Wednesday that they had beaten off the attempts of a suite of NRL clubs to secure 18-year-old prop Payne Haas on a six-year deal for $3 million. You can be sure there were just as many NRL recruitment managers wondering how they missed out.
NRL.com spoke to Haas' manager Chris Orr - who was in Washington DC - late in the evening on the day Haas' re-signing was confirmed.
"It was not about money. It was about Wayne Bennett, family and the Broncos," Orr said.
Haas’s deal is for six years but entails a five-year extension and upgrade. He was on contract until the end of next year so no formal offers could have been tabled by NRL clubs until November 1 this year.
That did not stop clubs making informal approaches and NRL.com understands that Haas could have earned up to $1 million more if he had decided to go on the open market.
"Our offer to him was certainly not as high as what other clubs were offering him," Bennett said.
"He is a player in great demand and we see him with a long-term future here, and we were happy to pay what we paid.”
Bennett said earlier this year what a great clubman Shane Webcke had been for Brisbane, and then joked that he only heard any complaints from the legendary prop when he went on Kangaroo tours and found out what other front-rowers were getting paid.
Webcke, like many a Brisbane forward in the past, was prepared to accept less at Red Hill to play under Bennett and be part of a successful team and culture than follow the lure of the mighty dollar.
That philosophy has not just applied to forwards either. Brisbane legend Steve Renouf revealed in his NRL.com column earlier this year how he also turned down $1 million a season to sign with the Roosters in the Super League war to accept half as much to stay at Brisbane.
"The club has a long history of that, with players happy here and wanting to stay here," Bennett said.
"They still get well paid. Don’t think they don’t, but football is about more than how much you get paid. It is also about your welfare, happiness and who you play with. We’ve always struck a pretty good balance here."
That is a balance young Haas has also wisely decided means most to him.
In 2016 when Haas first signed with Brisbane he had a plethora of NRL clubs chase him, but chose the Broncos after a conversation with Bennett where he felt a deep connection to the veteran coach.
There were other factors at play.
The former Keebra Park High student is one of 10 children and told News Corp in a moving story several months ago that he was playing for his older brother Chase, who has been in a wheelchair since a car accident when he was a toddler.
Being close to his family, who live on the Gold Coast, is a must for Haas.
While several other clubs in 2016 were offering full-time training straight out of school the Broncos took a more cautious approach with Bennett making it clear Haas would have to earn his stripes in the under 20s.
That development pathway has served the former Australian Schoolboy well.
The pre-season just gone was his first with the top squad and Haas soon earned the nickname "no pain" from Alex Glenn after blowing his teammates away with his endurance and power.
It was injuries to the Broncos forwards that forced Bennett’s hand in many respects and he injected Haas for his NRL debut earlier than he had intended to against South Sydney in round eight, where his cameo played a crucial role in Brisbane’s win.
A star arrived on the rugby league landscape that night. Haas’s injury a fortnight later and subsequent shoulder reconstruction will see him miss the rest of the season but he will be back to rumble in 2019.
The Haas family had expressed to Bennett that the coach's presence at the club was a key reason why he re-signed. While there is nothing in Haas' contract that ties him to Bennett's long-term future at the club, that fact was part of the negotiations.
It is therefore ironic that Haas has his future secured beyond next year when Bennett does not. If Bennett does intend to coach on beyond 2019 then his success at convincing young stars to stay at the club may well be part of his pitch to the Broncos board.
There are some who have questioned the Broncos decision to re-sign Haas for so long and for so much, suggesting they went away from usual practice.
Bennett once had a rule of thumb that he didn’t pay over $300,000 for front-rowers but said times had changed.
"That was a long time ago before the salary cap change,” he said.
"It [the funds outlaid] is all relevant to your ability, and the more ability you’ve got the more relevant it is."
Haas has seen less than 40 minutes of game time in the NRL but Bennett has watched special talents come on the scene in the past and is certain the teenaged prop is one of them, and not a risk.
"I think the really good ones have always got it," he said.
"Karmichael Hunt came here at 18 and was outstanding. Darren Lockyer was 18 when he first played here and was outstanding. They have got special talents.
"The way we train them, the high-performance units and the coaching they’ve been getting means they come in better prepared…but the talent is what gets them there."
Orr has had plenty of talented teenagers on his books over the years and said Haas' re-signing at Brisbane made sense on every level.
"The Broncos tick all the boxes for him ... professional, resourced, close to home and good coach, and the package was on par and market value," Orr said.
"It was a no-brainer for him. Payne is just happy playing under Wayne Bennett and with the way he has been treated. There are a lot of clubs that say they can do all that, but at Brisbane he can also drive home and see his family."
The Haas signing is a major coup for the Broncos and Bennett but they can't rest on their laurels. More is to be done on the back of a major victory with Corey Oates, Tevita Pangai jnr, Matt Lodge and Jaydn Su’A yet to be wrapped up. Bennett remains confident Brisbane will win more recruitment battles than they will lose.
"They are decade players some of these guys here right now – Jamayne [Isaako], Kotoni Staggs, David Fifita, Payne and another three or four I could mention," Bennett said.
"We have a great history of not losing our young players."