NRL silly season ramped up this week, with Ryan Matterson signing with the Eels, while Latrell Mitchell has gone from the game’s hottest commodity to the kid apparently no-one wants.
The mail is that each player was after more money – Matterson has got it, and while Latrell’s million-dollar dream is in jeopardy for next year, that’s mainly because most clubs figured he’d be on the open market in 2021.
It may be another year off, but the Australian centre and two-time premiership winner will get a fat payday soon enough.
However, in both of their attempts to bump their worth, I wonder if they’ve actually cost themselves money.
Since taking on the role of NSW coach, Brad Fittler has been crystal clear to Blues players – whether they be incumbent or potential – to leave contract dramas at the door.
Now, there were some reports that Matterson’s problems at Wests Tigers stemmed from a personality clash with coach Michael Maguire.
But retired Tiger Robbie Farah shone what many believe to be a more accurate light on Matterson’s issue.
“The thing is, he thinks he’s worth more,” Farah told an NRL.com podcast.
“He came to us as a bench backrower and he had a great season. He shouldn’t be upset with the Tigers. If there is anyone he should be upset with it’s his manager.”
His deal with the Tigers was reported to be $400,000 a year, while his three-year contract with Parra is said to be worth a total of $1.5 million – so an extra 100 grand a year.
Now, that’s obviously nothing to sneeze at, but it’s also roughly the amount of money Matterson would have made if he became an Origin regular.
And we know Fittler wasn’t expelling hot air when he spoke to the Cockroaches about contract dramas.
Ahead of the 2019 series, Fittler told the Sydney Morning Herald he had phoned Mitchell to discuss his reported ongoing issues with his future at the Roosters.
“He has looked distracted at different times,” Fittler said. “I just encouraged him to get that stuff sorted. Get your manager stuff sorted. We don’t want to be dealing with that. That’s across the park, with everyone.”
Mitchell proceeded to turn in an underwhelming display in Origin 1, and while Fittler said he’d cut the kid a break – “He’s a superstar, he’s coming off a huge year, he’s a young bloke so I can cut him some slack,” Freddy told reporters – Latrell was dropped for the rest of the series.
Then there was the Kangaroos’ loss to Tonga last week, the aftermath of which saw Fittler on Channel Nine savaging the men in green and gold, suggesting some may no longer deserve their spots.
“If Mal [Meninga] is fair dinkum, he is looking at that game thinking, ‘We might need a few new players here,’ because I thought some of their efforts were terrible,” he said.
Guess who was then mentioned specifically?
“Latrell Mitchell came up with some bad errors and some really soft options.”
We can probably say Mitchell and Fittler are off each other’s Christmas card lists. I honestly wonder how Fittler can pick the Taree tearaway for the Blues after dropping him and publicly pulling him apart – and not for the first time on the latter count.
So, Trell, you’re in all likelihood down the three $30,000 match payments that come from playing Origin.
And while he had designs on joining the two-comma club, with no-one willing to come to the party on a seven-figure deal and Nick Politis rescinding the Bondi club’s $800,000 a year offer, he’s probably simply now hoping to save face and get $900K.
Which is about what he would have got if he’d stayed at the Tricolours, refound his form as the best centre in the game and regained his place in the Origin arena.
As for Matterson, he kicked stones at training until he was allowed to walk away from what was an entirely reasonable deal at the Tigers so he could make more money at the Eels.
Doesn’t matter if that’s not what actually happened. Perception is reality and that’s the perception of Matterson.
And it’s not a perception that gels with Brad Fittler’s Origin side.
So, again, Matterson’s made 100 grand while probably costing himself a spot in a series that could have earnt that same(ish) amount.
Now, I know there are no guarantees in footy, with form and fitness meaning Mitchell and Matterson could make hundreds of thousands of dollars playing Origin footy or they could never play a rep game again.
What’s more, I’m all for players making as much money as they can in their short careers – a few months ago I told Latrell to take the money and run.
In that piece, I outlined that Origin players don’t get smaller match payments if they get better club contracts and concluded by saying, “The only thing a player can be sure of is the number on his contract stating what will end up in his bank account”.
And if at the end of your career we’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars’ difference in earnings, sure, you do what’s right for you.
Sorry, what’s right for you and your family.
But if the difference in your pay packet is more or less going to be the amount you would have made by playing Origin, and your state coach has said he won’t select players who carry on like a Christmas ham at contract time, maybe… don’t carry on like a Christmas ham at contract time?