The lead up to the grand final was a special time to be a Canberra Raiders fan. Big Papa storming over the line had unleashed pure euphoria for many. We savoured the victory. We celebrated the opportunity a grand final brought. It was bliss.
John Bateman’s request for more money landed on that week with all the grace of a drunk relative’s racist rant at Christmas. It hung in the air, requiring acknowledgement, comprehension, and eventually for Bateman himself to do the dreaded ‘clarification via twitter’.
At the time we said it was clear that Bateman wasn’t actually trying to create drama – his tweet suggested as much. Instead, his recent shift to a new agent, the infamous Isaac Moses, meant that his current contract was paying commission to a previous employee. And if Isaac Moses was going to work for John Bateman, he wanted to get paid too. Leveraging the goodwill and capital his client so he could get another income stream was his goal, regardless of what the impact was on Bateman, or his and his teammates preparation for the biggest match of their lives. It was a stunning case of the manager putting short-term gain at the expense of the big picture.
Then with the wounds of a grand final loss still being licked by melancholy Canberra fans, news emerged that the hero of the grand final, Jack Wighton, was opting out to take offers from 12 teams around the competition.
It was a stunning state of affairs. Barely 12 months since his career was nearly ended one fateful night in Civic (most of just sacrifice our dignity to the alter of Mooseheads, Jack nearly gave his career), Jack was purportedly ready to walk out the door without more money coming his way.
Why the change of heart?
At the time it was clear that Wighton was seeking to capitalise on an excellent season. Extra money was unequivocally coming his way at some point, regardless of whether he took up the option.
But there was also another variable.
Jack had recently switched to new management. As was the case with Bateman, new management weren’t getting anything from his current contract. Jack gave up the ghost when he said:
I’m 100 per cent there for next year, and the option for the following year in my favour was signed under my old management, and that’s the only reason I haven’t taken it up,As reported by Christian Nicolussi in The Canberra Times
So a second heart attack for Raiders fans courtesy of new management for a key star. We should start an agent watch; the next player that changes management will be knocking on Ricky Stuart’s door.
As we said last week, neither are leaving Canberra, at least not in the next contract cycle. While teams may offer more for either, both have been clear that they actually don’t want to go anywhere (if only someone had told their agents). Let me also be clear that I want everyone to get paid as much as possible. People have families to look after. They have an extremely time-limited career and must make as much as they can while they can.
However, it does present a problem for both Jack, John and the Raiders. By playing this card at this time it puts an end to any thought of keeping BJ Leilua and Jordan Rapana. It essentially makes the whole reason they are getting extensions harder to emulate, as the Raiders lose talent and depth in order to top up these stars (and fill the pockets of their new agents).
How contracts are staggered and phased so players can be upgraded at different times is a huge part of avoiding situations where important players are pushed out the door. Ricky Stuart and Peter Mulholland have for the large part done a good job in staging contracts to avoid situations like this as much as possible.
Alas, even the best planning can’t overcome an agent in search of a pay-day.