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Even in the mad, bad world of rugby league, the wrong attitude comes with a price

Opinion

The Payne Haas contract saga has had everything but one vital ingredient – common sense, writes Michael Blucher.

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Contract. /Kon-trakt/ Noun. Middle English: via Old French from Latin contractus, from contract- ‘drawn together, tightened’, from the verb contrahere, from con- ‘together’ + trahere ‘draw’.

“A written or spoken agreement, especially one concerning employment, sales, or tenancy, that is intended to be enforceable by law. Not necessarily applicable to professional sport, in particular the game of Rugby League, unless of course it suits the player and/or the manager. Sometimes the club”.

You might have guessed, that last bit didn’t come directly from the Oxford Dictionary – it was just a little editorialising on my behalf, but on the strength of the contractual argy bargy that plays out every season, you could be excused for thinking it was a legitimate inclusion.

Perhaps it’s just my antiquated, outdated view of the world, but is there any professional environment in the world where formal contracts – contracts that have been signed settled and delivered – account for less than they do in the travelling circus that is Rugby League?

Two parties – three if you include the all-important player agents – at some point sitting down and doing a deal that remains in place until one of the said parties decides it no longer suits them. And then the whole thing gets thrown in the bin.

I wish at times it worked like that in the real world.

“You know that house I sold you 18 months ago for $540K? I want it back. I can flog it off for more”.

Or interest rates…”I didn’t realise they were going to go up. Do you mind if go back to June last year – and lock them in a 1.89 per cent?”

Even betting tickets at the Saturday races – “I know I had $20 each way on No 6, but I’d like to change that to No 2, now that the race has been run, and the donkey that I backed finished 11th.

How fantastic would that’s be? Not so much for the people with whom we had “transacted”, but stuff them. As long as it suits us.

Let’s be clear – I’m not denying anybody the right to “negotiate”.

Negotiation is a part of daily life – it happens everywhere – in football clubs, in accounting firms, mechanic’s workshops, even marriages. Especially marriages.

But Payne Haas telling the Brisbane Broncos mid-season that he’s not earning what he could be, so he wants to leave – immediately – that’s not negotiation. That’s extortion, particularly given the man mountain prop is contracted to the club until the end of 2024.

Granted I’m a long way off properly understanding the nuances of the highly intricate and sophisticated NRL player contract system – cooling off periods, renegotiation time frames and the like. But threatening to leave at the halfway point of the season, on the grounds of “I could be earning more” – Puleeeeeeease.

Just to be clear – it was Haas who appointed the manager who “allegedly” did the dud deal, right? And when that allegedly “dud deal” was put in front of him, he did pick up a pen and sign it, right?

All pretty clear so far. But then as time passes, it dawns on him – “I’ve made a mistake. I’m worth more than this. I should have signed for more”. So he sacks that manager, and appoints another manager to fix the mistake. His mistake – in laymen’s terms, locking in the interest rate, instead of taking a punt on the “variable”, which as it turns out, would have led to a much better financial outcome.

I want that house back. Here’s your $540K!

It’s a seperate discussion altogether as to what Payne Haas’ current market value is in the NRL. It might be a million, it might be more – there are people eminently better qualified than me to lead that debate.

One point I’d make – to have a “one” in front of your annual salary to me suggests that you’re not only excellent on the field, you’re excellent off it as well, and I’m not sure Payne quite ticks that box just yet.

Moving forward, I’m more interested in the posturing of his new management, and how that in turn affects the place that Haas occupies in the hearts and minds of Brisbane fans, now and into the future.

Nobody told them to boo one of their own, like they did in the game against the Titans a couple of weeks ago. They’ve worked that out all by themselves.

Whether it was widespread, or merely the grumblings of a small pocket of aggrieved supporters hardly matters. The message was clear – “you’re a fantastic footy player, but you’re getting way ahead or yourself, champ. Nobody’s bigger than the club – our club”. Or in less savoury terms, you’re already on a good wicket – stop taking the piss!

What the booing also reminded us – there’s very little about sport that’s rational. Sport is driven purely by emotion. Grown men, painting their faces, drinking $14 beers, buying and wearing merchandise they don’t need, all while yelling at somebody in a white shirt 100m away who can’t hear them, and even if they could, wouldn’t be the slightest bit interested in what they have to say… not a lot rational about that.

Every now and then, the stars of the circus need reminding of this reality.

For lots of reasons, Haas is hot property. He is a rare physical specimen – high in demand, very low in supply, and on that basis alone, it stands to reason that the price for his services should be high.

Throw in the fact that during the toughest of times, Payne Haas has consistently been one of the club’s best – he’s already a three time winner of the prestigious “Porky Morgan Medal”. So clearly, most of the “negotiating” trump cards are being held in his giant hands.

But as anyone who has ever played team sport would know, regardless of the level of competition, no individual, irrespective of their talent, can get the job done on their own.

That’s what team uniforms are for – you’re all in it together. And there are times when individual priorities and preferences need to take a back seat, for the greater good of the collective.

I remember years ago, talking to Brisbane Lions great Alistair Lynch, who wisely or unwisely, signed an unprecedented 10 year deal with the club.

How did that play out? There were times, Lynch admitted, that he was earning a fraction of what he could have been elsewhere, but there were other seasons he was being paid well over the odds.

And guess what? Over the course of his decorated career, Lynch reckons he finished up earning roughly what he deserved.

Perhaps even more significantly, the triple premiership winner left the game with a reputation that no amount of money could ever buy, a team player who was not only hugely successful, but still today enjoys the respect and admiration of this peers and the wider AFL community.

Payne Haas is of course under no obligation to be loyal to anybody but himself and his family.

However on another level, as the intelligent young bloke I believe he is, Haas could benefit from fully understanding the opportunities that come with carrying himself with patience and humility.

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