The trail has gone quiet.
It’s been near a month since we last heard from the David Fifita rumour mill. Christmas and New Years have intervened. Top line players have returned to training and normalcy has returned. No new news (with Gary Gnu) has emerged and we’re just meant to go about our days like we don’t care. If only it was so easy.
Of course, I guess we should have seen this coming. Two interrelated things – beyond whether Fifita wants to come to Canberra, which we’re still not convinced of – are always going to delay any deal being done.
The major obstacle to a deal – almost any deal – being done (or more accurately, finalised) at the moment is the inability for the league to do its job and reach an pay and conditions agreement with the players. Without an agreement it’s hard to finalise deals – especially expensive ones. The lack of certainty around the salary cap make it hard for anyone to commit to a specific number, particularly large ones, even with all the caveats in the world included in the contract. This is why it’s mostly players with (relatively) small cap numbers that have changed teams recently (such as the Milk bringing on Danny Levi). You’ll note that rumours have swirled about similarly high-paid players like Mitch Moses having reached agreement, but we still waiting to cross the t’s and dot the lower case j’s.
Not only does this limit the ability of anyone to reach an agreement with David Fifita, but it also means that the NRLW Raiders are unable to sign Shaylee Bent as has long been reported. A collective agreement is also being negotiated for the women’s competition, and while nothing is in place the new Raiders team will remain the domain of phrases like “in-principle” and “rumoured.” We are all aware of how the Green Machine have made the pitch to Bent part of their pitch to her partner, so without this being finalised too we continue to play the waiting game.
You’d think these hold ups would encourage the league to come to the table and work with the players to finalise a deal. Instead the league has undermined the very union it should be trying to make agreement with, pushing out word of agreement was made without it in fact being made. Easy mistake to make I guess. The players have thankfully shown solidarity to ensure conditions that protect the more vulnerable of their cohort (e.g increased minimum wages, better funding for past players support, as well as injury and medical support) are included. Hopefully the league comes to the party.
With this chaos being fostered by the incompetent V’Landys administration, it seems likely this will result in a second factor that will delay any decision being made by Fifita. Anyone worth their salt advising Fifita would be telling him to wait and see how the likely increase in the salary cap shakes out. It won’t necessarily open up more money immediately, but with things so fluid it seems silly to commit when there may be a multitude of teams who enter the free agency market as this year plays out. Instead of a binary Canberra or the Gold Coast, David could have more suitors. Combined with a good first three months as part of a side with more experienced spine, it might mean he’s not having the pay cut being offered by Canberra.
The upshot is that it may be some time before we know how this story ends. The delay in the collective agreement pushes us dangerously close to the season, and moves Fifita closer to seeing if some quality weeks early on might increase the offers available. It’s not an end to negotiations, but it just pushes them to the background while more important things occur. Alternatively if an agreement is reached between the players association and the NRL, this might be the catalyst for clarity around the situation. But given that Kurt Capewell has flagged the potential for a player strike, that doesn’t feel immediate.
Does this mean the Raiders are out of the race? It does increase the variables and the competition for Fifita. But it ultimately doesn’t change the core of Canberra’s offer; that of a clear role, an established and mature side, and a home to share with his partner (that last bit is metaphorical. I’m sure a house would count against the cap). It might not be a sombrero, a beach and the bright lights, but it’s the same pitch that got him interested to start with.
And in the meantime all we can do it wait.
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