Mercenaries, businesses and mutual agreements: The professional rugby landscape

Beau Robinson Columnist

By Beau Robinson, Beau Robinson is a Roar Expert New author!


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    Rob Simmons is a die-hard Queenslander. But this year, he won't be with the Reds. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

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    There’s been a lot of player movement over the last 12 months, something we’ve become accustomed to with both rugby union and professional sports in general. Some of the switches we’ve seen occur wouldn’t have been thought possible this time last year.

    Having seen what has occurred, it had me remembering a Mad Monday for the Queensland Reds a good few years back. We were sitting around in some pub in Brisbane having a few beers when the subject turned to allegiance and what other teams you could or definitely couldn’t see yourself playing at.

    With such a young squad of Queenslanders at the Reds who had been born and grew up in the state, many had the ambition of one day playing for the Reds, which most of them succeeded in doing. They had never even entertained the idea of playing for a rival province, and why would they?

    This must have been around 2012 when we were in a successful little period (one which should have been a lot more successful) and, as promising young players, they had it all in front of them. The Reds were keen to re-sign the majority of them, as you do when the team is successful and looking oh so promising for a good few years to come.

    At this stage, we were probably well and truly into the rum and diet cokes, and big Rob Simmons had a crack at me after I wouldn’t pledge loyalty solely to the Reds. Big Simmo is a diehard Queenslander, as so many are when they’re born and bred north of the Tweed. I reckon there might even be a subject at primary school for Queenslanders where they instil some form of patriotism into the young ones, although Simmo’s parents are actually from Wellington, NSW (go the Redbacks!).

    Rob wasn’t at all aggressive but he was genuinely having a go at me after I wouldn’t rule out ever playing for any other team, including the Waratahs who had sent me packing only a couple of years earlier.

    But I’d been around a bit longer than a lot of these blokes and, even though we’d had success and there was no reason we wouldn’t go on to achieve a great deal more, I realised it was still a business. That’s what professional sports is in today’s environment.

    I just refused to rule any possible option out after my experience in the professional rugby environment, a real ‘never say never’ approach. I had absolutely no reason to want to leave the Reds, especially at the time of this conversation – I loved living in Brissy, playing for the Reds and pretty much anything else to do with the city, state and team at the time.

    But I was also a realist. Big Simmo just couldn’t fathom this. He was a die-hard, through-and-through Queenslander. He no doubt still is.

    Simmo isn’t the only one who I recall ruling out the possibility of playing for a rival only to find themselves since having done so.

    Rob Simmons Wallabies

    (Photo by Jason O’Brien/Getty Images)

    I’m not writing this to scare off young players and convince them to not be loyal. There’s something romantic about playing at the one club. I love seeing blokes start and finish up at the same place, it restores the notion that there is loyalty and a stronger relationship between both parties, and it’s great for the fans and the game.

    I admire that, although it’s unfortunately getting much rarer.

    Some blokes can’t fathom going up against the club they have always played with. They still have that burning ambition to play at a high level even as they get older, just not against the only team they’ve ever known.

    Greg Holmes and Dave Dennis are both at Exeter Chiefs, and big James ‘Kevvie’ Horwill is at Harlequins. Hopefully these guys will remain at those UK clubs and finish off their careers over there. They’re still loyal yet they get the best of both worlds by never having to play against the club they have such a deep connection with. There’s something special about that.

    Obviously, this scenario is not offered to everyone.

    So often club legends don’t go out on their own terms. Look at Robbie Farah, David Peachey and Matt Burke, just to name a few.

    But it goes both ways. So often we see players leave a club for what’s in the best interests of them and their family. And why shouldn’t they? Why should we begrudge them for making that decision? It might be for money, the security of a longer contract, to be closer to their family, with an eye on life after rugby, or moving overseas to experience a new culture, but all are valid arguments.

    Then there are the ‘mutual agreements’. This is often referred to as loyalty, in that both parties have simply come to an agreement.

    This is where you do see one player staying at the same club and finishing off their career there. Both parties are happy with the terms every time a contract has been up for extension or renewal. As the career goes on, especially in Super Rugby, the mutual agreements become far less likely.

    When both parties can’t come to a mutual agreement, it’s generally the player (although not always) who cops the flak for how things have unfolded. The public, oblivious to what goes on and how it works, almost always faithfully stay with their club.

    Players don’t have the platform to speak out. Even if they do, that can be seen as a deterrent to organisations who don’t want players to ruffle feathers. Teams are often wary of a player who speaks his mind and goes against the grain. Sometimes for very good reason, too. Culture and unity are key components to success, so you don’t want to disrupt this.

    The player doesn’t have a media release and his or her words are lost, never able to get across their side of the story. It will seem unfair, especially as it’s always sports organisations telling their side of the story, rarely the other way around. Public backlash can be brutal and has even made players renege on their contracts.

    Robbie Farah on the scoreboard

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    Consider this. When Robbie Farah was moved on from the Tigers, how many Wests supporters ended up going for Souths? Hardly any. It’s just the reality. The players at clubs come and go, but the clubs themselves will almost always be there. Only rarely are there cases like those of the Force or my beloved North Sydney Bears.

    I loved Jason Taylor when he played for the Bears. When they were unfairly kicked out of the competition and he moved to the Eels, I followed him but didn’t even consider following the Eels. I had the emotional attachment to the club, not the individual player.

    Players can be resentful towards teams that have let them go, especially when those franchises paint themselves through their press releases as totally innocent and free of any wrongdoing. But a player and fan should never hold it against the organisation. Why? Organisations simply don’t make decisions, individuals within organisations do.

    Hopefully, the public will appreciate this insight and it will give them a better understanding into how it all works. Maybe it’s something they hadn’t considered before. I certainly hope it’s a new perspective for most fans.

    Going back to big Simmo, I hope this change of scene will rejuvenate him and get him back to playing at his best. He’s the most well-rounded second rower I’ve played with and I’ve played with a plenty of good ones. He can hit, run a good line (and even kick), is quick and fit, knows his lineouts inside out and demands very high standards of those around him.

    For the benefit of the Waratahs and Australian rugby, I hope he re-establishes himself as the dominant force he can be.

    For those younger professional athletes or those with playing ambitions, I have written this not to scare you, but simply to inform you of what many other young pro sportsmen and women are oblivious to, just like I once was.

    If this sounds too disheartening, then maybe it’s best you don’t get involved. Players are like stud bulls, they all have their price, but at the end of the day, even the best can find themselves at the market.

    Beau Robinson
    Beau Robinson

    Beau Robinson is a former professional rugby player who played with both the NSW Waratahs and the Queensland Reds, winning the Super Rugby title with the Reds in 2011. He is now officially in his first year of the 'next chapter' and is working as an Action Coach Business Coach. He also has a podcast, A yarn with Beau Robbo, where he interviews past professional rugby players on how they found the transition.

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    The Crowd Says (54)

    • February 12th 2018 @ 6:48am
      Train Without A Station said | February 12th 2018 @ 6:48am | ! Report

      Great insight from one of the greats.

      Certainly have to have a chuckle at the irony of Simmo now playing for the Waratahs due to the Reds forcing him out.

      Great to have you writing on the Roar. Big fan or your podcast and blog. Unfortunately I couldn’t get there at the time but loved seeing how you held a Fan night at a pub for QLD Country fans in the first year of NRC.

      Less of a fan of your fashion sense though.

      • Columnist

        February 13th 2018 @ 5:59am
        Beau Robinson said | February 13th 2018 @ 5:59am | ! Report

        Fashion definitely not my forte haha

    • Roar Rookie

      February 12th 2018 @ 8:34am
      Comrade Bear said | February 12th 2018 @ 8:34am | ! Report

      Thanks mate – top read!

    • February 12th 2018 @ 9:07am
      Tim Rogers said | February 12th 2018 @ 9:07am | ! Report

      What can I say ? My interest in SR is fleeting at best. I will be wanting to know how players are going as they did no wrong when the Force was axed! However I despise the rest of the organisation who did this to my team and the individuals who were involved along with their hollow promises to try and get out of dodge.

    • February 12th 2018 @ 9:59am
      Rhys Bosley said | February 12th 2018 @ 9:59am | ! Report

      Great article Beau and it is great to read a writer on here who has walked the walk. Well done.

      • Columnist

        February 13th 2018 @ 6:00am
        Beau Robinson said | February 13th 2018 @ 6:00am | ! Report

        Cheers Rhys, glad you enjoyed it mate

    • February 12th 2018 @ 10:11am
      enoughisenough said | February 12th 2018 @ 10:11am | ! Report

      Organizations like the Reds, who have not shown loyalty to loyal servants of the game in Qld will reap what they sow, and indeed many previously loyal fans aren’t so loyal anymore….Its all very well to be ruthless and to plan for the future, and I understand that that sometimes necessitates making hard decisions, however the way the Reds have treated some of their players, and indeed the fans (announcing the squad to much fanfare, and then dropping certain players), is straight from the “how not to do it” blueprint.

      This was followed up by the disingenuous statements about players who have been told they were not required, such as “we wouldn’t stand in his way if he wanted to move”. Organizations who don’t treat anyone with loyalty, won’t get it from their players, nor their staff. And ultimately organizations lose their identity when they lose their moral compass and treat players as nothing more than pieces on the chess board, and once they lose their identity, their fan base is gone.

      What money for Simmo to steal a Reds lineout and to win the game for the Tahs this year?

      • Roar Pro

        February 12th 2018 @ 10:49am
        GusTee said | February 12th 2018 @ 10:49am | ! Report

        E is E – I am with you 110% !

        What is wrong with the administration of rugby across our nation?

    • Roar Pro

      February 12th 2018 @ 10:43am
      GusTee said | February 12th 2018 @ 10:43am | ! Report

      Interesting observations, Beau.

      I for one put loyalty at the top of the list of player attributes.

      However, with respect, you talk beyond the perspective of Australian rugby union circa 2017.

      2017 was the year in which our sport’s parent decided to eat one of its progeny to hide the fact that it had utterly mismanaged the game in Australia.

      The year in which a financially spoiled sibling, which had repeatedly wasted its benefits and opportunities, was ordained to receive the resources and legacy of another.

      A year in which one player group was singled out to face the most excruciating psychological testing for months on end and still front up week after week to play (and beat the Reds and Tahs while doing so).

      The same year in which the rugby interests of other countries, particular Japan, were put ahead of Australia by Australians.

      How do professional rugby players in Australia, from whatever team or State, view the “loyalty” factor now that these precedents have been set.

      Simple: there is now no such thing as a loyalty factor in Australian rugby union.

      Our Rugby Union players and their managers must factor into their thinking that, at least as long as Cameron Clyne runs the Australian show, they are totally expendable.

      This does not auger well for either our players or rugby union in Australia.

      • February 12th 2018 @ 1:44pm
        Markie362 said | February 12th 2018 @ 1:44pm | ! Report

        Agree 100%.since the earu screwed the force i will never go to another test in perth and i hope noone else does either

        • February 12th 2018 @ 3:04pm
          Morsie said | February 12th 2018 @ 3:04pm | ! Report

          Then you won’t get any and that’s fine for the rest of us. We’ll take ’em.

          • February 12th 2018 @ 3:57pm
            AndyS said | February 12th 2018 @ 3:57pm | ! Report

            Honestly can’t understand why they haven’t already. The WA gov’t gave them the out for the Bledisloe next year and they didn’t take it. Having stuck all the eggs in the Melbourne basket, I would have thought it a no brainer to move the game there as well to maximise profile. Seems ridiculous and a bit desperate to be simultaneously removing WA from the game at a national level, then asking them to help pay for it.

            • February 12th 2018 @ 4:16pm
              Train Without A Station said | February 12th 2018 @ 4:16pm | ! Report

              Maybe WA overpaid and nobody else is willing to pay the guaranteed sum for the same test?

              It doesn’t help that Sydney is out because of planned ANZ upgrade, which is why Perth got it in the first place.

              • February 12th 2018 @ 7:40pm
                Bakkies said | February 12th 2018 @ 7:40pm | ! Report

                We’ll WA wasn’t able to underpay as part of a lies in confidence deal

              • Roar Guru

                February 13th 2018 @ 9:45am
                Train Without A Station said | February 13th 2018 @ 9:45am | ! Report


                WA wasn’t able to underpay because they made an offer.

                It sounds likely that nobody else is willing to offer the same if RA aren’t taking the option to relocate it.

                Your whole claim is that the Vic Goverment underpaid. Of course that’s based on your speculation and overstating of premium tests (Because there is only about 3 possible premium tests, which they will likely only get 2) and comparing to what the WA Government paid as being “market value”. If nobody else is willing to pay it, it’s no longer “market value”.

        • Roar Pro

          February 12th 2018 @ 7:33pm
          GusTee said | February 12th 2018 @ 7:33pm | ! Report

          Markie362 – Mark my words The Force Will Return. We will be back.

          Karma will ensure that Clyne & Co get their just rewards.

          In the meantime, we in WA must continue to support the Wallabies at every opportunity as the nonsense that has unfolded was caused by the administrators of the game and not the players.

          It will be magic to hear the new Perth Stadium reverberate with cries of “FOR..ORCE FOR..ORCE”.

        • February 13th 2018 @ 12:03am
          Ex force fan said | February 13th 2018 @ 12:03am | ! Report

          Markie. I am also not going. Rather watch a ARU will be embarrassed again when the Wallabies play in a half empty stadium and those that turned up to watch wear Force blue.

          • February 13th 2018 @ 9:07am
            Morsie said | February 13th 2018 @ 9:07am | ! Report

            Talk about “cutting off your nose to spite your face”.

            • February 13th 2018 @ 3:38pm
              Ex force fan said | February 13th 2018 @ 3:38pm | ! Report

              Don’t care. WA should get out of the ARU/RA and join a different or setup out own rugby union. There is nothing in for WA. Just like Wales and Scotland.we can have our own international side. I have no interest in giving RA/ARU a cent.