NRL Rich 10: Clubs can pay a price when splashing the cash on one player
NRL Rich 10: Clubs can pay a price when splashing the cash on one player

Inside story: The NRL’s biggest contract mistakes

Ash Taylor was in hot demand like no other player in the NRL. He was supposed to be the game's next big thing, potentially a Johnathan Thurston or Andrew Johns.

Wayne Bennett and the Brisbane Broncos desperately wanted him back at the club where he had played under 20s and emerged as one of the game's most exciting youngsters.

Normally the old supercoach gets who he wants.

St George Illawarra had missed the top eight and wanted him to wear the Red V to solve their playmaker problems (before they eventually settled on Ben Hunt).

There was also the Wests Tigers banging on the door of his agent Warwick Wright.

Millions of dollars were being thrown in Taylor's direction as though it was Monopoly money.

All this for a 22-year-old who had never played rep football and had participated in only one finals match. Yet this was a battle that the Gold Coast Titans had to win for PR reasons.

 

There was a fight for Ash Taylor’s signature. Picture: Jerad Williams
There was a fight for Ash Taylor’s signature. Picture: Jerad Williams

 

It was October 2017. They'd sacked coach Neil Henry and needed a good news story in a hurry.

Also, the Broncos had just pinched their brightest young prospect, front-rower Payne Haas.

Losing Taylor to their big brother up the Pacific Motorway would infuriate their members and fans even more. There were still the bitter memories of the last playmaker that got away … Daly Cherry-Evans with his infamous backflip.

Tony Mestrov was the Titans' chief operating officer at the time and takes up the story.

"Ash was really performing at the time and had loads more potential," Mestrov said.

"We thought we could build the club around him. That he was the future of the club.

"The Broncos made him a strong offer and (club co-owner) Rebecca (Frizelle) and the board were putting a bit of pressure on. They didn't want to lose him to the Broncos, who were coming in hard."

 

Jack Bird landed almost a $1 million a season. Picture: AAP Image/Dave Hunt
Jack Bird landed almost a $1 million a season. Picture: AAP Image/Dave Hunt

 

It is now spoken about as one of the worst multimillion-dollar signings in rugby league history.

Taylor struggled under the pressure of being the face of the franchise and the extra eyeballs that come with being a million-dollar player.

He had to be stood down last year to deal with personal issues, including gambling problems.

These stories are not just unique to the Titans.

The Bulldogs have been under fire for putting Kieran Foran on a $1 million-a-year contract at Belmore.

The former premiership-winning playmaker was signed at Canterbury in 2017 on a multi-million deal by then coach Des Hasler and chairman Ray Dib.

The Bulldogs had run 11th and there was enormous pressure building on the board and CEO Raelene Castle for controversially extending Hasler's contract.

Like the Titans, they needed a good news story. Foran has since had a terrible run with injuries and failed to regularly produce in a side with limited attacking capabilities.

You can go on and on.

Ben Hunt made big money to switch from the Broncos to the Dragon. Picture: Robb Cox � NRL Photos
Ben Hunt made big money to switch from the Broncos to the Dragon. Picture: Robb Cox � NRL Photos

 

The premiership is littered with stories of poor judgments and signings.

Bennett, for all his achievements, left behind some shockers at the Brisbane Broncos - Anthony Milford on $1 million, Jack Bird $975,000 and Darius Boyd on $750,000.

And they'll wonder why David Fifita wasn't happy on $300,000 when he's arguably the most explosive forward in the competition, yet was on less than a third of Milford's money.

Ben Hunt picked up a ridiculous $1.2 million a year from St George Illawarra recruitment boss Ian Millward. He is only now finding some form as a hooker.

The Cronulla Sharks have as many overpaid players as the Broncos.

In 2017 Andrew Fifita was compared with Arthur Beetson after a barnstorming performance in the opening game of the State of Origin series.

Shane Flanagan jumped in and offered him $850,000 a season on that one game.

He ran sideways for the rest of the series and hasn't produced anything like his best form since, obviously restricted with injury problems.

Andrew Fifita is on $850,000. Picture: Matt Blyth/Getty Images
Andrew Fifita is on $850,000. Picture: Matt Blyth/Getty Images

 

Kieran Foran is on big money at the Bulldogs. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
Kieran Foran is on big money at the Bulldogs. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

 

When Bird walked out on the Sharks to join the Broncos, Cronulla went straight out and paid $850,000 for Josh Dugan. He was a Test centre at the time but hardly a good-value signing.

Matt Moylan, too. He joined the Sharks on $850,000 a season from the Penrith Panthers in a swap with James Maloney. He's played 16 games in two years.

You look at the Wests Tigers. Centre Moses Mbye is on $815,000. Yes, he's a Queensland State of Origin player but he's not worth anywhere near that amount.

Former coach Ivan Cleary paid Josh Reynolds more than $750,000 a season when Mitchell Moses quit for the Parramatta Eels.

He has since earnt $2.2 million for 19 games of football.

The club is also paying Joey Leilua $700,000 a season, ridiculous money for such an ill-disciplined hothead football player.

It's the same money as Joey Manu is on the Sydney Roosters.

Middle forward Russell Packer is also on $750,000 a year at the Wests Tigers … that's $70,000 more than Sio Siua Taukeiaho is on at the Roosters to lay the foundations for premierships.

Even high-flying Penrith are still feeling salary cap pain from Phil Gould's recruitment decisions before his departure last year.

To keep the side together that is now leading the premiership, the Panthers set up a recruitment committee including Ivan Cleary, board member Greg Alexander, recruitment boss Matt Cameron and CEO Brian Fletcher to deal with the problems Gould left behind.

They had no choice but to release Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Waqa Blake to the Parramatta Eels - and pay half their salaries for the entirety of their contracts.

This means Penrith will have to play $500,000 under the salary cap for three years.

At the same time, the Eels get the advantage of playing $500,000 over the cap thanks to the contribution from the Panthers.

If they can win the premiership, the Eels will have Gus and the Panthers to thank.

 

Originally published as Inside story: The NRL's biggest contract mistakes


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