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Why Parramatta almost sacked Michael Jennings

Every member of the Eels' 2018 wooden spooners trudged into the club’s North Parramatta training facility a few days after Mad Monday last year for their individual reviews.

Everyone but Michael Jennings. No one at the club could track him down.

“I turned my phone off, I was just over it,” Jennings recalls.

One of the highest-paid players in the club, facing the prospect of starting the following year in the Canterbury Cup, then boarded a plane for Lebanon. Still, no one from the club had heard from him.

“That’s where my head was at. I was really selfish,” Jennings told NRL.com.

“I wasn’t in a good place. I just wanted to get away from my environment. I just wasn’t in a good place. I was just over the year. I was over it. Just selfish. I put myself before the team. I had too many excuses.”

When Jennings touched back down in Australia almost a month later, NRL.com can reveal he was greeted by a $15,000 fine and a breach notice - his second in as many months.

The first was after another no-show at a club appearance. His contract, understood to be more than $800,000 a season, just one more strike away from being torn up.

When Jennings returned from his Middle Eastern adventure with Tim Mannah, Jarryd Hayne, Mitchell Moses and Nathan Brown, coach Brad Arthur sat him down and spoke about attitude.

Storm v Eels - Semi-Final

Not football, attitude. The coach knew his centre hadn't forgotten how to play, but his application and commitment had wavered almost to the point of no return.

“It’s pretty embarrassing, actually,” Jennings said.

“When I got back I met with Brad, and he was pretty honest about things. At the time I was in talks with Newcastle and I was about to go to there. I was making the decision whether I wanted to go to Newcastle. I sat down with Brad before making the decision, and I told him I wanted to stay here and I believed I could offer me more.

"He was just disappointed in me. I could see that disappointment. He just knew that I could offer more and what I was doing just wasn’t me. I was letting him and the team down. Seeing him genuinely disappointed in me, that was hard. I was selfish.”

Jennings’s underwhelming performances in 2018 raised the ire of Eels fans, questioning his commitment.

While the 31-year-old speedster, who was dumped to reserve grade by Arthur last year, may have been looking for the exit doors, he’s arguably enjoyed his best football at the Eels in 2019.

The former NSW and Australian centre admits he reached a point where he was happy to just cash in his cheque and, upon reflection, understands why he felt the wrath of the club’s fans.

“That’s part of being on big money and being a marquee player signing from another team,” Jennings said.

Michael Jennings with son Carter after an Eels win.
Michael Jennings with son Carter after an Eels win. ©Gregg Porteus/NRL Photos

“You’re going to cop all the media and all the fans. To be honest, they were right. Last year I wasn’t living up to my contract.

"At the time I didn’t read into it … you see what Darius Boyd is going through at the moment. I feel for him. He’s trying so hard. But I found last year the harder I tried the more things got worse and worse.

“I wasn’t living up to the money I was getting paid. The fans had every right to be angry and frustrated with that. I needed to pick it up this year and earn my money. I know I can get comfortable and I did get comfortable. It was hard, because last year ... I just had too many excuses as to why I wasn’t performing.”

 
 
 
 
 
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Parra-dis-so with my #1

A post shared by Michael Jennings (@jenko_3) on

While the fine and the breach notices were a reality check on the fragility of his career, it was the birth of his first child, a son Carter, that triggered a dramatic change in Jennings’s all-round attitude.

“My son changed my life,” Jennings said.

“I owe it to my son. I never took responsibility for my actions or what I did. I had an excuse for everything. He changed me. I wanted to stay and I’m glad I did. I just wanted to prove it to myself that I belong here. Hopefully I’ve done that.”

Matterson matters ongoing

There's been a lot of conjecture about Ryan Matterson's future since NRL.com revealed in this column last week that he was looking for the exit doors.

The issue stems from his relationship with coach Michael Maguire, regardless of his appetite for more money.

Last week his management met the club and sought formal permission to negotiate with rival clubs.

The Tigers are yet to provide an answer, however it's expected they will say no.

Wests Tigers forward Ryan Matterson.
Wests Tigers forward Ryan Matterson. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

There has been some whispers about a transfer fee, something the Tigers accepted when Ivan Cleary left the club last year. Perhaps the Tigers will have a change of heart if they are compensated for Matterson's departure.

There's no benefit for the club letting go of one of the most improved forwards in the game - especially when you consider he's only on a deal worth around $350,000 per season.

However they are weighing up the negative impact of having a player in the roster who doesn't want to be there. They've seen first hand the effects of that in the past.

Marsters in Cowboys' sights

The Cowboys have been in contact with Esan Marsters and want him at the club next season. The ball is now in Marsters's court.

His management recently met the Wests Tigers seeking an upgrade, however the Tigers wouldn't bump him up. They gave permission for Marsters to test his value on the open market. He's done that and now has a decision to make.

The Cowboys are desperate to bolster their outside backs. They had a crack at Jesse Ramien and are still holding out hope of Valentine Holmes returning to the NRL.

When NRL.com contacted the Cowboys after learning Storm rookie sensation Ryan Papenhuyzen had been offered to them before the start of this season. Their reply: "never heard of him". 

Be smarter: Toovey and Kimmorley's message to Broncos' pokie players

Buck's party brings Broncos undone

Most would agree it's not a good look for the Brisbane players to be out the night before a big game even though they weren't drinking.

However the Broncos may have gotten away with it had they chosen not to attend the same venue that a Fox Sports staff member was having his buck's party. It sums up Brisbane's fortunes this year.

Lisone on lookout

New Zealand Warriors forward Sam Lisone is on the lookout for a new club next year. He still has another year to run on his deal at the club, but all indications are that he is unlikely to be at the Warriors in 2020.

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

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