Maybe it is the COVID-interrupted season, but there seems to be more teams struggling to compete this year with the most uneven competition in recent memory.
With their teams struggling, big-money players at bottom-eight teams are under increasing pressure to renew their healthy contracts. Indeed, many have NRL careers on life support.
The 2020 season has also been the year of ‘best of’ lists, so I thought I would name a side made up of players that their CEOs regret signing.
Criteria for selection are players that have lost form, not earned their contracts or not delivered on early promise.
1. Anthony Milford
Purchased for big money in 2015, Milford gained an early release from Canberra for supposedly family reasons. Once a dangerous runner of the ball, Milford has struggled without a steady organiser beside him. It’s a given that there will be a mutual parting of the ways when his contract expires in 2021. At 26, a few NRL clubs will still be interested in Milford. However, he can expect a large pay cut to his current Broncos deal.
2. Jamayne Isaako
From the union strong hold of Christchurch, Isaako burst onto the scene in 2017 and played five Tests for New Zealand the following year. Pencilled in as the long-term fullback replacement for Darius Boyd, Isaako’s mistakes and lack of impact now see him out of the team and surpassed by many others.
3. Darius Boyd
Boyd was a top-quality fullback for over a decade, winning a Clive Churchill medal at the Dragons. Boyd is also Origin’s all-time leading try scorer, benefiting from the service of the great Greg Inglis. He has been shuffled around the Broncos’ back line for two years and must surely be looking at the calendar for an overdue retirement.
4. Jack Bird
He is a versatile footballer who burst on to the scene, winning a premiership with the Sharks and an Origin jersey. He was signed on big money to the Broncos where injuries have dogged him for three years now. Even allowing for injuries he could not nail down a position in the Broncos’ back line as he has been shuffled around unconvincingly from fullback to centre and the halves.
5. Justin O’Neill
Like many of his 2015 premiership teammates, O’Neill’s form has been on the slide for a while. Despite a lack of outside backs, O’Neill has spent time with the Townsville Blackhawks. A surprise selection for Australia in 2016, O’Neill scored only three tries in 41 games in the following two years. It’s a very good chance he is on his last contract in the NRL.
6. Corey Norman
Despite playing 200 NRL games, his record features only three finals appearances for a solitary win. Norman can occasionally produce a dazzling display but check the Parramatta Eels’ performance since he left and the Dragons’ since he arrived. The Dragons would love to move him on but I don’t see any takers either here or in the UK.
7. Ashley Taylor
This was a tough one with Ben Hunt’s massive Dragons contract putting him in contention. However, Hunt was successful at the Dragons before Corey Norman’s arrival and has been playing strongly in the hooking role. Taylor was given a huge contract after a successful start to his career. Since then, a lack of athleticism and a poor kicking game had him out of the game entirely last year. His return this year has been underwhelming. There would be little interest from other NRL clubs and his career needs a lifeline from the UK Super League.
8. Russell Packer
He was a true success story after his prison stint when he added starch to the Dragons pack for a number of years. The Tigers came knocking with big money and the big guy has hardly been seen since. On a good note, Packer continues to study and is now completing his third university degree.
9. Nathan Peats
Peats is still a steady player whose reliable defence earned him a year in the Blues’ Origin team. A few years later, a lack of impact saw Peats struggling to secure a spot at the lowly Titans, currently competing with the unheralded Erin Clark, Tanah Boyd and Mitch Rein for game time. His versatility will see him earn another contract but a bench spot seems the best scenario for Peats.
10. Adam Blair
He was an important piece of a star-studded Melbourne team and a main stay for the NZ national team. His career went backwards on a big-money deal at the Tigers (similar to Josh Reynolds, Chris McQueen, Russell Packer and Ben Matulino) and hasn’t got much better at the Warriors. He is an absolute nightmare for fantasy players due to his reluctance to run the ball. In some games, Blair finishes with as little as three hit-ups despite playing the full 80 minutes. It’s hard to knock a man with 323 NRL appearances and 51 Test caps. Blair has produced little over the last five years.
11. Coen Hess
After bursting on the scene, this prototypical man mountain has gone missing for the last two years. In a side that often only has Jason Taumalolo making significant metres, Hess goes missing all too often. His time in the centres last year did little for his confidence and Hess would have to be one of the most frustrating players for Cowboys fans. Hess is only 23 and is some chance of resurrecting his career.
12. Bryce Cartwright
According to reports, Cartwright is currently in Sydney while signed to the Titans. Yet again we have seen Cartwright falling out of favour with his team. Formerly known as a ball-playing forward with exquisite skills, the utility is now better known for his family’s unqualified medical beliefs and being one of the game’s biggest turnstiles. He seems to lose interest for long periods and a new contract would be a risk for any club.
13. Korbin Sims
The youngest Sims brother forged a good reputation at both the Cowboys and Knights. He was good enough to be the Maroons’ 18th man on two occasions. Injuries, suspension and lack of impact have made him a disappointment at the Dragons. Despite the Dragons having little muscle up front, he gets named at number 21 each week and can’t earn a run in a struggling team.
14. Moses Mbye
He is another Queensland Origin representative who was an impressive player at the Bulldogs in a number of positions. He is a player that suffers from the fact he doesn’t have a definitive best position he ends up doing a passable job at centre, fullback, in the halves or at hooker. Mbye was one of half a dozen poor big-money recruitment decisions by Ivan Cleary in his short stay at the Tigers. While his career is not under threat, I could see his next contract being less than half of his current cushy deal.
15. Josh Reynolds
An Origin-winning halfback at 2014 and a fan favourite at the Bulldogs for his whole-hearted efforts, he was signed to the Tigers on big money, but he has barely played both due to injury and a lack of impact. It’s hard to see where his career goes from here.
16. Matt Moylan
He is a beautiful runner of the football who has been shuffled unconvincingly between the halves and fullback at the Sharks. He left the Panthers in controversial circumstances and seems to struggle with both injury and a carefree attitude.
17. Jake Granville
He was a great signing for the Cowboys who was both the players’ and members’ player of the year during their 2015 premiership win. As the Cowboys struggled over the last five years, so has Granville. Previously a live wire, with the ability to dart and create, Granville simply stopped running from dummy half and has been replaced much to Cowboys’ fans relief by low-cost Dragons recruit Reece Robson.
Honourable mentions: Ben Hunt, Curtis Scott, Jarrod Wallace, Chris McQueen, Sione Mata’utia, Esan Marsters, Kieran Foran, Kevin Proctor, Dylan Napa, Shannon Boyd.