The Stalemate

BY DAN

A deadline passed. An ultimatum unheeded. And now the fallen star Josh Hodgson is staying in Canberra? If only things were so straightforward.

At first glance there’s little of controversy. After negotiations seemed settled recently, the two teams got stuck over how much the Raiders were meant to cover of Hodgson’s deal. As we noted recently, when you start talking how much, you’re not talking about if but when. But then last week it seemed to slow down last week as it became likely that Hodgson would need to report to pre-season training in Canberra. Then the Tigers reportedly put an arbitrary time limit on a deal (which expired Monday evening), and reports emerged on Tuesday that a deal was scuttled. That’s the end of that. Right?

It doesn’t seem to be that clear to me. What is more likely is two clubs who want the same thing – Hodgson to be playing at the Tigers. The Raiders want the Tigers to cover the costs, because they’re getting the player. The Tigers want Canberra to cover some of the costs, like they did with BJ Leilua, like Melbourne did when Curtis Scott joined the club. Like is pretty standard behaviour in the rugby league world. At the moment the two clubs both have an incentive to make a deal, but both think the other has more.

The reporting of the stalemate seems more to do with clubs backgrounding journalists on the situation, so it’s worth considering what they’ve said. Both Paul Crawley (noted Stickyophile and the brother of Milk assistant coach Mick Crawley) and The Mole would likely have fair relationships within these clubs so while I don’t doubt the reporting, I do question the intention with which they were shared information.

Both articles seem to be more about positioning the negotiations and asking for movement (mostly the Tigers wanting Canberra to move) than about ending discussions. For example, while The Mole says Hodgson is going nowhere, he also states

But the Raiders have dug their heels in, refusing to pay any of Hodgson’s hefty contract money. The Tigers would only play ball if the Raiders contributed to the deal, so the deal is off unless Canberra changes its stance.

The Mole here

Sound like the Tigers explaining their side of the situation? The deal is off, unless Canberra offers to pay freight – as they will – then the deal is back on.

In contrast, Paul Crawley provides Canberra’s side of the story.

It’s been suggested that the Tigers only want to pay Hodgson $500,000-a-season to make the move, but would offer him a two-year deal. But given he is currently on a reported $850,000-plus, that would still mean a significant pay cut for this coming season, although he has been paid the first month of his 2022 salary worth an estimated $70,000. The Raiders are also reluctant to let Hodgson go given the current uncertainty surrounding Tom Starling’s potential availability for the start of the new season.

Paul Crawley here

So there’s the story. They’re 350 odd grand apart from a deal, and both sides are saying they don’t need to move. Telling reporters “the deals off!” is the equivalent of when you told that guy at the little market on that last holiday you went on (remember holidays? It’s been a while). It’s just posturing and that trinket is definitely gathering dust somewhere in your house.

It would be easier to take it seriously if there was a quote or a name attached to any of the reporting. It’s probably a bit much to expect that from a gossip merchant like The Mole, or to hope Crawley would ever actually quote his mate (he’d prefer to act as his megaphone). Putting a name to actual quotes would provide a bit more seriousness and certainty to the situation. It puts reputations and relationships on the line. If a deal was definitely not going to happen, then Sticky would be saying “we’ve always loved Josh” instead of Paul Crawley saying hilarious things like:

The Raiders have maintained all along that there is no ongoing drama between Ricky Stuart and Hodgson relating back to George Williams’ controversial exit earlier this year.

Lol Paul Crawley here

Of course that the game of chicken continues doesn’t mean that a deal will be done. From an outsiders perspective, my take has always been the Tigers are volatile negotiators, demanding heaven and earth (or Hodgson and Wighton) when they don’t deserve it. It doesn’t help there’s multiple voices in the organisation (or, at least there was before Canberra’s cool dad Tim Sheens came on board). Dealing with them can end in so many different ways. Just ask Luke Brooks’ undermined spirit.

The incentive increases the closer to the season they get. I’m no expert, but I suspect most teams are focused right now on getting fitter, and the time for combinations comes later. It may be that the Christmas break, or Tom Starling’s legal process (hopefully) finalising on January 11 will be the impetus it takes to get a deal done. In a sense the Raiders are already doing part of the job that the Tigers want and covering his salary. If they do so through January they would have gone a long way to covering the gap the Tigers want covered. God knows the situation has played out similarly in the past – it took until January 27 2020 for a deal to be done for BJ Leilua to go to Wests.

Arbitrary deadlines aside, little has changed in the situation, other than some awkward conversations at training. Nothing suggests the relationship between Hodgson and Sticky is anything but the same as it was last year. Canberra are still keen to move on to Tom Starling. The Tigers could still use an experienced ball player at nine. It seems likely that Hodgson is still on the block, the Tigers will still put money on the table to get him there. At some point, the Raiders will want a fresh start and 500-600k in cap space to play with.

The deal may not be done, but the dance goes on. Only time will tell if Hodgson will be in Canberra for 2022, but my money is still on him leaving.

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