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What we learned from the Andrew Fifita debacle

Andrew Fifita should be able to do whatever he likes (AAP Image/SNPA, Teaukura Moetaua)
Roar Rookie
5th April, 2014
20
1747 Reads

Like all of us rugby league-loving civilians, I don’t actually know what happened in the breakdown of the Andrew Fifita contract negotiations.

Depending on which newspaper you read, it could be:

1. Des Hasler was so offended by Fifita’s comments about the Sharks and rugby union that he instructed the Bulldogs to pull the deal;

2. The Bulldogs finally did some maths and worked out that they couldn’t afford Fifita, and pulled the deal;

3. The Bulldogs finally concluded that they really need a fullback, did some maths and worked out that they couldn’t afford Fifita, and pulled the deal;

4. The Bulldogs delivered a formal agreement with much lower numbers than the signed memorandum of understanding, because they couldn’t deliver promised third party arrangements, and so Fifita walked from the deal; or

5. The Bulldogs management and Fifita’s management had a meeting in an atmosphere of reciprocal respect and mutually agreed that Fifita, for reasons unexplained, should not become the highest paid prop in the history of rugby league.

Incredibly, #5 is the official Bulldogs position. It’s the only one that seems completely implausible.

If this is correct, why would Fifita’s management have asked the NRL to investigate the deal? (I note that #1 is only slightly more plausible – let’s not forget that Des’ current leading front rower tried to eat another man’s ear, and Des just re-signed him)

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Given that #2 and #3 are theories predominantly held by Twitter-based conspiracy theorists who are absolutely sure that the Bulldogs are over the cap, without actually knowing what any of the players are paid or how the cap works, I think that leaves #5 as the favourite.

If #5 is correct, here’s some things that we can learn from the whole debacle:

A. Don’t sign agreements that are not legally binding.

Fifita was in demand, had at least five suitors and signed an agreement (a non-binding “memorandum of understanding”) with the Bulldogs that committed the Bulldogs to nothing. The minute he did that, the other clubs who were interested in him started looking at other targets and Fifita lost a great bargaining position, one that he may not have again in his career;

B. Don’t announce to your teammates and the media that you have signed with a club, if you have not signed a legally-binding agreement. For more information on why this is a bad idea, see A above.

C. Don’t let your “new club” announce to the media that you have signed with them, if you have not signed a legally binding agreement. This can only benefit the club. Again, see A above.

D. If the club’s financial offer involves third party sponsorship agreements, understand that the club cannot, under NRL rules, guarantee those payments.

Mark Gasnier learned this to his detriment and, if you believe the papers, Darius Boyd and Jarryd Hayne currently face these issues.

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So, if the club says that they will deliver third party agreements to you, require the club to secure and finalise those third party agreements with the relevant sponsors, for signing by you at the same time as you sign your club playing agreement.

I think Andrew Fifita is a fantastic player. I thought the reasons he gave for signing with the Bulldogs – he didn’t do great at school, he’d seen his mate Simon Dwyer lose his career and he needed to get the most money he could for his family – were incredibly honest and refreshing.

I hope he comes out of this okay, and I hope that if he gets the chance to make these mistakes again, he doesn’t. And I hope that he has a quiet chat to Michael Lichaa.

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