Tapine Contract Update

BY DAN

The one down side of the continuation of the Canberra Raiders successful finals run has been the noise around Joe Tapine’s contract.

Another week, another set of gaudy pieces extolling the brilliance of Joey Taps. It’s beautiful to see, and I’m glad he’s getting the national recognition for what has been more known in Canberra. After what many have called the best half of football by a prop in recent memory, Tapine deserves every plaudit he gets. It’s not every day you see a middle forward crack 200 metres wtih ease, as well as set up two tries and create another line break. Of course, it means interviews, and any journalist worth their salt has to ask the obvious question: “so…what’s doing with the contract.”

Joey has done his best to provide answers that reflect a degree of uncertainness on his behalf. Last week it was this response

We had a couple of talks a couple of weeks ago. We’ll have a look in the next couple of weeks or months and see what we’re going to do. I’m not closing any doors at the moment, but me and my wife are happy. But at the same time, still open.

Here

This week he said.

It’s a conversation to have with my wife and we’ve got to see what we want to do. It’s about footy and about lifestyle, so I’ve got some hard conversations coming up with her, the club, Sticky (coach Ricky Stuart) and my manager

Here

Both statements are essentially the same. They’re him saying he doesn’t want to give up any leverage, but that he doesn’t really want to talk about it now. That doesn’t mean he’s leaving Canberra, rather that if he’s going to stay the Raiders are going to have to pay full value. That he gets to focus on his footy while Don Furner has to find some extra money is a win-win for Tapine. This is even clearer in the above and below statement when he notes he’s willing to take negotiations into November if needed.

If it sorts out before November 1 we’ll be happy and if we have to wait, we’ll wait. I’m not fussed at the moment, I’m letting my footy do the talking.

Here

This, of course, makes sense as bargaining power. The idea that the hordes are descending upon our elite talent is sure to make the Raiders loosen the purse strings. The goal of course is to get as close to a million per year as possible. And of course to do that, Canberra needs a reason to spend, something that Tapine’s manager Jim Banaghan has been keen to reiterate. As he apparently told Buzz Rothfield

I would suggest the Raiders can’t lose him, but his manager Jim Banaghan told me that half a dozen clubs have expressed interest

Buzz here

I mean of course six clubs are interested. I’d wager that number is closer to 16 than 6. That’s not the point. The question is do they have the mix of cap space, ‘lifestyle’ (I’ve always taken that as access to beaches but that probably says more about me than Joe) and roster to fit the first million dollar prop in the squad? The above statement has been Tapine’s manager’s holding line since the start of the year. Everyone wants Joe. You should pay him. Nothing’s changed.

Much would note the similarity between Tapine’s situation and Cam Munster. Cameron Smith recently said of Munster:

If I’m brutally honest, if he was to commit to the Melbourne Storm and extend his contract, he would’ve done so by now

Here

That may apply to Munster, but i’m not sure it necessarily applies to Tapine. The Storm/Munster discussion has been playing out publicly all year. Munster’s agent is on TV a few nights a week spinning his yarns about the rugby league world. It’s fuelled the fire. There’s been a very clear team seeking to be the ‘pull’ for Munster (the Dolphins). The specificity of that makes it seem less about leverage and more about a genuine dalliance.

Tapine’s discussion has been quieter, despite his manager’s periodic efforts to make it a bigger deal. It’s taken the bright lights of the finals to really draw attention outside Canberra. It’s unsurprising a negotiation that only begun in earnest in the weeks leading up to the finals has yet to be resolved. And notably, there’s never been a team that has come to the forefront as the obvious place for him to go. Instead it’s been a vague threat of going somewhere else. This suggests that the threat is more about making sure the Raiders pay that man. At least at this stage.

The upshot is that this won’t be resolved for a while yet. And the Milk are going to have to go beyond the rumoured 750k or so currently rumoured to be the ballpark figure. That sounds like big money, and there are risks that we’ve talked about before with signing older props (i.e. they drop off a cliff after 30, and Joe will turn 30 in the first year of this extension). It’s almost certain that the last years of a four year deal (as has been suggested Tapine is likely to get) would be inefficient. As many would note it doesn’t make sense to pay elite half money for a prop – but then Canberra don’t get to be run like a normal team. If they could go out and buy a highly-paid high-value half i’m sure they would. But instead they have to either create their own or take the discards of others.

The Raiders shouldn’t be scared of paying for talent – it’s not an option they normally have. It’s not like they need to save their cap space to attract talent, just keep it. Retaining Tapine (and Harley Smith-Shields and Adrian Trevilyan) should be the short term focus, and with Hodgson, Sutton, Elliott, Rushton, and Charnze all coming off the cap, and only Pasami Saulo and Ata Mariota’s upgrade being added, there should be plenty in the bank. Moreso, with the cap expected to increase substantially for the start of the 2024 season, there’s a strong likelihood that (for example) 900k for Tapine will seem much more manageable by the time the deal starts.

I would prefer this was a done deal, but then that’s not how negotiating works. Tapine has been well paid as a rugby league player, but this is his likely his last big contract. It’s going to be full value, so this could take some time.

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