“The last dance".
That’s how Adam Reynolds described his grand final farewell with South Sydney in an Instagram post just hours after overcoming a pre-match groin injury to help steer the Rabbitohs to victory over Manly last Friday night.
Rugby league historian David Middleton compiled a long list of players on Monday whose tenures with their club had ended with grand final glory or defeat, but none had a story that compares with the departure of Reynolds after Sunday's premiership decider against Penrith.
A Rabbitohs junior who declared after signing with Brisbane earlier this year that he would always “bleed red and green”, Reynolds is Souths captain, playmaker and record point scorer, but for reasons that few fully understand he and the club were unable to agree on a new deal.
Yet what is more remarkable is how Reynolds and the Rabbitohs worked to ensure that the disappointment and emotion of his departure didn’t derail their season.
“It was a really difficult decision,” Rabbitohs CEO Blake Solly says of the club’s call to offer Reynolds just a one-year extension, which he rejected in pursuit of a longer deal.
“We wanted Adam to stay but we couldn’t match what Adam wanted, and probably rightfully deserved, in terms of security and length of contract.
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“That made it really challenging, but largely the credit for how it has been handled should sit with Adam. He has been able to put that to one side, secure a great deal at Brisbane that sets him up financially and probably lifestyle-wise for the rest of his career, and beyond.
“He has then turned his sole focus to winning the premiership, and that is a measure of his maturity and his temperament. Adam has driven a hell of a lot of what the club has done in the last two months.”
Reynolds’ manager Steve Gillis still can’t comprehend why the Rabbitohs weren’t prepared to budge from their position before he signed a three-year deal with Brisbane in May.
The 31-year-old never envisaged playing for another club and indicated that he was prepared to accept a two-year deal to stay but refused to allow the ongoing negotiations and media speculation distract him from his goal of leading Souths to a 22nd premiership.
“He will leave on good terms and one day I am sure he will be welcomed back, whether that is in coaching role or some other role,” Gillis said. “He is a legend of the club, the highest points scorer ever and he is highly regarded.
“There is no bad blood, no one is walking around saying things behind each other’s backs. He has never once said anything derogatory about the club or whinged or complained or questioned anything.
“It is all business. That’s the way footy works. We just sat down and said if they aren’t going to offer more than a year you have got to keep moving. Get the best deal you can at the club you think you will be happy at and let’s get on with it."
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Souths aren’t the only club to make a tough decision about a star player, with Melbourne reluctantly allowing co-captain Dale Finucane to join Cronulla next season, along with utility Nicho Hynes.
What sets Reynolds apart is that he has played 231 NRL matches for the Rabbitohs after coming through the club’s pathways and is one of just three survivors from the 2014 premiership-winning team, along with Tom Burgess and Alex Johnston.
However, Souths also have the likes of Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker, Damien Cook, Cameron Murray and Jai Arrow taking up significant salary cap space.
Blake Taaffe, who was the NSW Under 20s halfback in 2019 and has been deputising for the suspended Mitchell, is seen as a future star, along with 2018 Australian schoolboys rugby union playmaker Lachlan Ilias.
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“Adam’s contribution to the club will be irreplaceable in some respects, but the salary cap forces clubs to make these decisions,” Solly said.
“The cap is there to equalise the competition and unfortunately these are the decisions that clubs have to make, particularly when they have had a long period of success on the field.
“We would have liked Adam to stay and we were hoping he would stay, but we also were respectful of Adam’s desire for a longer-term contract.”
With Souths head of football Mark Ellison and other officials having enjoyed long relationships with Reynolds, the club didn’t feel the need to devise a strategy for dealing with the fall-out of the loss of one of their favourite sons.
“The club has a huge amount of respect for Adam and Adam has a lot of respect for the club so it was a bit of a club first mentality,” Solly said.
“Mark Ellison has been Adam’s biggest advocate for 10 years at the club, so you don’t really need to produce a strategy when you have that level of respect.
“I think all the way through Adam was the one saying ‘this won’t derail the season, I am committed to winning a comp here’. It was almost inherent.”
New face of the Broncos
A further sign that Reynolds is leaving on good terms is his recent decision to join the client list of Rich Digital, the sports consultancy founded by former Rabbitohs CEO Shane Richardson and his son Brent, who will help look after the halfback’s off-field interests in Brisbane.
The signing of Reynolds has coincided with a sharp increase in the value the Broncos shares and he is widely expected to be appointed captain of Brisbane next season.
“For a brand to get involved with he is very safe, he is a family man, he is never in the headlines for the wrong reasons and he will be the face of rugby league in a huge market so his stocks are rising massively, particularly off the back of a potential premiership win,” Brent Richardson said.
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“Our main focus is to find some off-field opportunities for him outside of his contract with the Broncos with like-minded brands.”
There was a belief that Reynolds would be reluctant to leave Sydney but he and wife Tallara have sold their house and purchased one in Brisbane, where they and their four children will soon move to.
“I think he is quite excited about a new challenge in a new town,” Gillis said. “He will probably be the buy of the year next year. Brisbane have picked up probably their most important recruit, given where they are.
“He didn’t want to leave Souths but he was glad that there were clubs who thought he was worthy of a three year deal and he just thought ‘I’ve got to keep moving, I’ve got to get on with it’, and that is what he did. Look where he is now.”
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.