If the reports are true that Taniela Tupou has been offered a new contract worth close to $1 million per season, then Rugby Australia might be way too eager to win some favourable publicity.
It’s been a tough couple of months for Australian rugby. The Israel Folau saga, the below-par performances of Australia’s Super Rugby teams – with only the Brumbies through to the finals – a growing list of experienced players announcing their departures for overseas club and continued poor crowds; there’s not a heap to celebrate.
And only yesterday it was announced that the proposed Nations Championship, that was set to reap a good chunk of coin for cash-strapped RA, had been scrapped.
Plus there’s the ongoing uncertainty over the new broadcast deal that will come into effect from 2021.
Foxtel might pull back on their non-core sports which could significantly jeopardise rugby’s earnings, while Japan, the United States and Fiji might be added to a beefed-up Rugby Championship.
It hardly feels like the time to be throwing massive money at a 23-year-old prop who has made a dozen or so Test appearances, most of which have come off the bench.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported yesterday that RA want to keep Tongan Thor in Australia until the end of 2023 on a stack of cash believed to be between $800,000 and $1 million per season.
Michael Hooper’s five-year $6 million contract signed last year was bagged by many as being too rich.
The criticism was unfair given Hooper is a tough, consistent and proven performer and the Wallabies captain. His quality on the field and standing off it means he deserves to be one of the best-paid players in Australia.
Who knows what Tupou’s fellow Wallabies front-rowers Scott Sio and Allan Alaalatoa are getting paid?
Sio last month re-signed with RA and the Brumbies through to 2022 while Alaalatoa last year re-signed until 2023.
Tupou’s potential is clear to see but he hasn’t even cemented his place as a Wallabies starter, while Sio has racked up 55 Tests and Alaalatoa about 30 Wallabies caps.
You could understand if Sio and Alaalatoa made a phone call to their managers yesterday wondering whether they negotiated hard enough given the Tupou figure.
There are a bunch of big names that are leaving Australian rugby after the World Cup, freeing up funds to direct towards re-signings.
David Pocock (Panasonic Wild Knights) was in the top-tier of earners, if not the No.1. Samu Kerevi (Suntory Sungoliath) was a massive loss.
Quade Cooper and Will Genia are reportedly both close to confirming moves to Japan with Kintetsu Liners and Bernard Foley is apparently close to linking with Kubota Spears.
Christian Leali’ifano (NTT Communications Shining Arcs), Rory Arnold (Toulouse), Nick Phipps, Adam Coleman, Sekope Kepu, Curtis Rona (all London Irish), Sefa Naivalu (Stade Francais), Caleb Timu (Montpellier), Scott Higginbotham (Bordeaux), Duncan Paia’aua (Toulon) and Sam Carter (Ulster) are also on the move.
Folau’s axing has also meant there’s more money than expected in the accounts, although that could flip big-time if Folau wins his legal battle over his sacking. The dispute reportedly has the potential to cost RA as much as $10 million in damages.
A similar $800,000 a season deal was believed to be offered to Kerevi, which was trumped by a reported $1.2 million per season in Japan.
Tupou isn’t on the same tier as Kerevi when it comes to the influence he can have on a game, so giving him a similar offer seems ludicrous.
But even if the Rugby Australia budgets show there’s cash to splash, they shouldn’t be making Tupou the highest-paid prop in Australia rugby history, as well as one of the top-paid current Wallabies.
Tupou is yet to have that breakthrough season where he’s not just a reliable scrummager and getting through his work, but he’s making enough tackle-busting runs that would potentially justify a bumper contract.
It would take a standout prop to warrant the reported contract offer to Tupou. Could tough-as-teak Ireland props Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong demand that type of money? Owen Franks?
Given the large number of Aussie players departing Australia later this year, it seems RA are intent on taking a stance and stopping the haemorrhaging. Is it because they’re fearful of losing another player who like Kerevi is coming into his best years?
Tupou’s potential is undeniable, but that kind of money could be better used in trying times for the governing body.
One of the few rays of positivity for Australian rugby at the minute is from the ongoing under-20s World Championship in Argentina, where the Junior Wallabies take on France in the final this weekend.
They have been immense. It’s been written that nearly all of that squad have scored a Super Rugby deal for next season, but if not, they should be shored up.
What about having another go at getting Sean McMahon back from Japan? What about trying to get five-eighth Zack Holmes back to Australia after some fruitful seasons in French rugby, with Foley, Cooper and Leali’ifano leaving a big gap in the playmaking stakes?
Did RA make a big enough offer to Will Skelton before Saracens re-signed him? Kurtley Beale is also yet to re-sign with Australian rugby.
With the Tupou figure – although speculative – being made public, there will probably be a few players pumping up their asking price in seasons to come if a prop who isn’t even a Wallabies starter can get anywhere near $1 million a season.