Contract sideshow isn't producing any winners

I played for three NRL clubs and when I left each of them it was in the middle of a contract.

Fans will tell you it happens more than ever in rugby league. Players will tell you it happens for more reasons than the public ever know.

My first ever contract was a $10,000 Jersey Flegg deal with the Roosters in 2004.

The next contract went up from there, and by 2007 I was earning $130,000 but hadn't cemented a first grade spot and was out of favour. I didn't see that regular starting spot happening at the Roosters.

So we worked out a release to the Dragons and I made the move in the middle of the year.

My first big contract was when Wayne Bennett came to the club in 2009 and I signed for $180,000 for the next two years, with a clause that if I played 15 games it went up to $200,000.

That was huge for me. I backed myself and it paid off. After that, I signed for three years, but by 2013 Steve Price told me it was time to move on and Penrith offered me a four-year deal.

By 2016, my relationship with Anthony Griffin affected my ability to play my best footy, so I left the Panthers and went to England.

As I said, there's a lot of reasons that can go into a player changing clubs, and it's only natural that money is one of them.

Throughout the recent grand final week, we had immense focus on the contracts of Ryan Matterson (Wests Tigers) and John Bateman (Canberra).

Both players have enjoyed fantastic first years of their three-year contracts at new clubs.

Raiders second-rower John Bateman.
Raiders second-rower John Bateman. ©Keegan Carroll/NRL Photos

Both players have since been drawn into very public debate around upgrades of those deals.

Matterson has since been given permission to negotiate with rival clubs.

As I understand his situation at the Tigers, there are a few elements to it, including his relationship with Michael Maguire and the intensity of training under his coaching.

If a player and a club need to go their separate ways, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

Just like there is a right and a wrong way to go about increasing your earning capacity, or freeing up salary cap space.

Unfortunately, we're seeing the wrong way become the avenue for both clubs and players.

Wests Tigers' Ryan Matterson.
Wests Tigers' Ryan Matterson. ©NRL Photos

As a game, we can't allow players to leave a club purely to pick up more money at a rival outfit.

As I said, I don't think Matterson's exit from the Tigers comes down only to dollars and cents.

But, generally speaking, players need to realise that one good year doesn't make a career.

You cash in when you've turned one good season into numerous good years.

Then you can go to market and push for more money across your next deal rather than a smaller increase in the immediate future.

Unfortunately, we seem to be seeing clubs opting for a quick fix and a raid on their rivals, and players being positioned where they are questioned by fans, teammates and the game as they look to break a contract.

If you want to break a contract and move to another club, that can work. In some cases, it should.

But you shouldn't be able to earn any more money than what you originally signed for.

You should be bound by that original contract. If, for example, Ryan Matterson or John Bateman want to leave purely because a rival club has told them they can offer them more money, how is that fair on the Tigers or Raiders?

If there are other factors at play in him wanting to leave, then a player works out just how much they do want to get out when you take away the carrot of extra money.

Players need to realise that you want to - and are of course entitled to - make as much money as you can.

But with a hard salary cap, if you sign anything longer than a one-year deal, then that should be the deal.

If you don't build performance-based clauses into the contract, when you're playing badly, are the clubs entitled to ask for their money back?

Right now, rugby league – which includes players, clubs and fans – is the one getting short-changed.

 

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