The Brisbane Broncos are performing an impressive trick at the moment: they’re paying someone half what they’re worth yet exactly the amount they deserve.
When talking about the building blocks the Broncos are putting in place to reconstruct their club, Payne Haas is the cornerstone.
The young prop is the club’s best player and has been a shining light in the past two dark seasons.
At 194cm and 117 kg he’s a monster of a man, but along with the power you’d expect from such a massive frame, he brings speed, footwork and a never-say-die attitude.
That final aspect was perhaps best exemplified in the final 20 seconds of his side’s win over the Sharks in Round 16, Haas running some 80 metres in cover to bat the ball dead – even though the 26-18 scoreline meant Cronulla had virtually no chance of stealing a win.
It showed exactly why the Broncos are so keen to build their future around him – he’s not just a genetic freak, he’s an effort player too.
He shapes as the heir to Sonny Bill Williams’ throne as the best forward of his generation, so it was fitting to hear SBW’s thoughts on his fellow Islamic convert in the Sun-Herald over the weekend.
“Payne is a forward of the highest class – I don’t know if I have seen a prop do what he does in every facet of the game,” Williams said.
“If you could design a front-rower from scratch, it is him.”
A perfect summary right there.
It’s just a shame that Williams was being interviewed for a story that was painting Haas as being underpaid by the Broncos.
Having written if “Haas was on the market now, interested parties would start bidding at $1 million”, Danny Weidler reported the 21-year-old’s salary for this season is $550,000.
Nine’s reporter isn’t the only journalist pushing the idea that Haas is getting screwed either, with News Corp arguing in their annual NRL Rich 100, published in July, that at $517,000 for 20201, Haas is “undervalued at the Broncos” and “should be on more than $800,000 a season”.
Look, when compared to the $1.2 million that David Fifita is said to be earning at the Titans, it seems as though Haas is underpaid, particularly given how much more consistent the Bronco has been on the field.
What’s more, Weidler reckons Haas isn’t due to get even close to Fifita money in the coming years, breaking down his contract worth as follows:
As Weidler points out, not only is Haas on less than half Fifita’s money this year, even in his best remunerated year, he won’t make as much as the $875,000 a year Matt Lodge was due to get at Brisbane.
So it’s easy to argue a player who’s totally in the conversation for being the best prop in the game is getting short-changed.
But that’s not looking at the full picture.
Payne Haas may be on less than he deserves right now but that’s because the Broncos showed a huge amount of faith in him as an injured teenager who hadn’t even played 40 minutes of first-grade football when he inked his current deal.
Specifically, NRL.com reported on July 18, 2018, “Brisbane have extended and upgraded the contract of 18-year-old prop Payne Haas on a six-year deal which will keep him at the club until the end of 2024.”
At that stage of his burgeoning career, Haas had three bench cameos to his name, having played for 20 minutes against Souths in his debut, got through seven minutes against the Bulldogs, then ten minutes against Manly, a match in which he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.
Still, less than two months after that game against the Sea Eagles, the Broncos and Haas came to terms on the aforementioned deal, said at the time to be worth $3 million, although Weidler’s numbers on the weekend put the total value at $3.64 million.
That was an unheard-of show of faith in a teenage prop and – despite then-Broncos coach Wayne Bennett insisting that Haas’ talent meant “it is not a risk factor for us” – considering he had gone down with a long-term injury before he’d even played a collective half of football, the Broncos were taking a punt.
But they saw the talent and decided it was worth the opening the chequebook.
And it’s not like they low-balled the guy – they signed him to a deal that made him the 86th-best paid player in the whole comp at the age of 21. If contracts stay on the level they are at present (which is a distinct possibility), by 2024, Haas will be in the top 20 for annual deals.
Again, this was offered to a kid who had 37 minutes in top flight to his name – and who plays prop, a position in which players generally don’t reach their peak until their late 20s and even then, the absolute best don’t get fullback money.
Well, they didn’t in 2018 anyway.
But Brisbane had enough faith in Payne Haas that they put together a deal that they figured accounted for him gradually getting better and better each year to the point that by the time he was 24, he’d be paid commensurate with being the best prop in the game.
Again, it was a huge show of faith.
Since then, obviously, things have changed – Fifita significantly lifted the ceiling for what a forward can hope to earn in a year, while new rules have made a big man with a motor the size of Haas’ all the more valuable.
So there is absolutely a conversation to be had that Haas is worth more than Fifita. But, illogical though this may seem, getting paid less than Fifita doesn’t mean that the Broncos are underpaying Haas. The more reasonable discussion point is whether the Titans are overpaying their marquee man – but that’s for another column.
Instead, Haas has progressed at a level that his contract suggests neither he nor the Broncos would have accounted for – and honestly, who would have thought Haas would have reached the incredible heights he has at this insanely young age?
All of which means that Brisbane are getting value out of him at the moment, which is not the same as underpaying him – particularly given the significant and ongoing pay rises he’s got on the horizon.
Nonetheless, where there’s smoke there’s fire and when journalists start writing about players getting a raw deal, it tends to suggest someone is agitating for change in contract status.
And, as best illustrated by the millions of extra dollars Williams made by walking out on the Bulldogs in 2008, bailing on a deal has a way of working out well for great athletes.
So, despite the fact Brisbane should have no sense of urgency in upgrading Haas’ deal until towards the end of 2023, the suits at Red Hill are smart enough to be negotiating an extension for their boom prop as we speak.
Word is he’s in line for a million bucks a year, maybe for as long as a decade – which, yeah, is probably what he’s worth.
But just because he’s worth a million dollars doesn’t mean the Broncos are underpaying him at half that amount.
They’re getting value for the faith they showed in a teenager who had a busted shoulder and hadn’t even run for 100 metres in total over the three games he’d played.