Wednesday 21 March 2018 / 10:02 AM


Clubs and players warring over contracts is part and parcel of modern rugby league, with deals barely worth the paper they’re written on. We’re reliving the most notorious examples the premiership has witnessed.

10= Josh Papalii

Burgeoning Canberra backrower Josh Papalii signed a healthy three-year deal at the beginning of 2013 to join struggling Parramatta at the end of the season. But the deal had wriggle room, with the Raiders having until the halfway point of the season to make a counteroffer, and Papalii got cold feet about his impending move to Sydney. The 20-year-old signed a three-season extension with the Raiders of the eve of the 2013 campaign, incensing Parramatta fans, officials and coach Ricky Stuart. Papalii went on to debut for Queensland and Australia that season, and in an ironic twist, he has played under Stuart since 2014 after the coach controversially quit the Eels to take over at Canberra.

10= Henry Paul

The Auckland Warriors pegged Henry Paul as a special talent as a junior, signing the teenaged fullback a couple of years before their 1995 entry to the premiership. But after starring as captain on the Junior Kiwis’ ’93 tour of Great Britain, Paul became one of the game’s hottest properties during an off-season stint with Wakefield Trinity. His immediate earning potential skyrocketed and he backed out of his deal with the Warriors, who eventually relented when Paul’s proposed club Wigan agreed to waive the massive transfer fee they had slapped on Auckland’s front-row recruit Andy Platt. Paul became one of the British game’s dominant players over the next decade and played 24 Tests for the Kiwis, but never tested his talents in the Australian premiership.

9. Luke Lewis

Versatile Penrith star Luke Lewis signed a rich deal with South Sydney during 2008. But the Panthers exercised their right under the NRL’s rules to make a counteroffer to their charge prior to Round 13, matching the Rabbitohs’ big money (after reportedly offering him only half that amount prior to his signing with Souths) and signing him to a four-year extension a fortnight before the deadline. Lewis cited a family illness as the primary reason for backing out of the Souths deal. The Test stalwart eventually sought a release from Penrith in 2012 to join Cronulla, winning the Clive Churchill Medal as the Sharks won their maiden grand final this year.

8. Olsen Filipaina

A tug-of-war over New Zealand Test five-eighth Olsen Filipaina at the end of 1984 strained the long-standing friendship of Arthur Beetson and Jack Gibson, coaches of Eastern Suburbs and Cronulla respectively. The Sharks disputed the enigmatic Balmain back’s signing with Easts for ’85 on a one-year contract, claiming they had a handshake agreement with Filipaina and his manager for a two-season deal. The feud eventually dissipated and Filipaina linked with the Roosters, but the move was a dismal failure – he played just eight games for the club and represented the Kiwis from reserve grade before joining North Sydney.

7. Jim Serdaris

Former Souths hooker Jim Serdaris resurrected his career in Canterbury’s surge to the 1993 minor premiership, but became entangled in a contract dispute after signing an agreement to link with battling Western Suburbs for ’94. Serdaris attempted renege on the deal, penning a two-year contract with the Bulldogs. But the Magpies held their ground and Serdaris eventually honoured his agreement with the club. While Wests continued to struggle, Serdaris flourished and made the Kangaroo Tour squad at the end of 1994, before joining Manly two years later.

6. Greg Inglis

Superstar centre Greg Inglis was the highest-profile player forced to move on from Melbourne in the wake of the club’s 2010 salary cap scandal. He announced he would be joining Brisbane, although the signing of a contract was delayed due the Storm’s refusal to release Inglis, reportedly because of legal fees he owed the club. Inglis skipped the Broncos’ first pre-season training session in early-November, citing bad weather in Sydney as the reason, before missing the club’s deadline to sign a contract despite multiple assurances from the Queensland gun. The livid Broncos pulled their deal from the table and Inglis signed a rich deal with South Sydney a week later. Inglis starred in the Rabbitohs’ drought-breaking premiership success in 2014, but rumours the modern great wants to finish his career in Brisbane persist.

5. Tim Moltzen

Wests Tigers utility back Tim Moltzen briefly became the NRL’s most maligned player in 2011 after reneging on a three-year contract he signed with St George Illawarra. The Dragons trumpeted Moltzen’s acquisition mid-season, but at the end of the year the Tigers’ hierarchy stated he had never been formally released from his contract with the joint venture. Moltzen wanted to stay put, and after much deliberation between the clubs and the NRL, the Saints announced in November they would not be seeking registration of his contract. The injury-plagued playmaker made just a further 27 first-grade appearances for the Tigers before eventually signing with Manly for 2016; he retired due to injury this year without playing an NRL game.

4. Daly Cherry-Evans

Manly halfback Cherry-Evans’ stunning back-flip during 2015 ultimately saw the NRL get rid of the controversial ‘Round 13 Rule’, which gave players until the halfway point of the season to get out of any deal they had signed for the following campaign. DCE was trumpeted as the biggest signing in the Gold Coast Titans’ history when inked a deal in March, but less than three months later he took advantage of the lengthy cooling-off period to sign a mammoth eight-year contract to remain with the Sea Eagles – rumoured to be in the vicinity of $10 million. The Origin and Test star was subsequently booed at games in Brisbane and Gold Coast. Ironically, the Titans charged into the 2016 finals after recruiting rookie No.7 Ashley Taylor from the Broncos while the Sea Eagles languished near the foot of the ladder with Cherry-Evans struggling to find his best form.

3. Ruben Wiki

Auckland product and former Junior Kiwis star Ruben Wiki was viewed as an exciting signing for the Warriors’ 1995 premiership entry, cutting his teeth in the all-star Canberra backline. But after playing a key role in the Raiders’ 1994 title success – scoring 15 tries in 25 games as Mal Meninga’s centre partner – Wiki backed out of his contract with the Warriors to remain in the Australian capital. A bitter and protracted dispute between the clubs played out over the summer, and it appeared Wiki would sit out the ’95 season until the Warriors reluctantly eased off in their pursuit of the 22-year-old. Wiki belatedly returned home a decade later, finishing his career in 2008 after four strong seasons for the Warriors, where he remains as a trainer for the club.

2. Terry Hill

Teenage centre Terry Hill became the highest-profile case study of the controversial player draft’s short lifespan. After starring in his 1990 rookie campaign with Souths, Hill was set to join Western Suburbs the following season – until Eastern Suburbs swooped in and snapped up the exciting three-quarter in the draft, which the club was within its rights to do. Hill initially refused to play for the Roosters, but after a drawn-out standoff he lined up for his first game in the Tricolours in Round 6 of ’91 and scored eight tries in 13 appearances. The draft was later declared a restraint of trade, while Hill gained a release to belatedly link with the Magpies at the end of the year. He stayed with Wests for just two seasons before joining Manly and becoming a long-serving Australian international.

1. Dennis Tutty

Balmain backrower Dennis Tutty played a Test for Australia in 1967, but his lasting legacy to rugby league is as the player who stood up to the NSWRL and achieved greater equality for his peers. He attempted to join Penrith for the 1969 season, but the Tigers refused to place him on the transfer list. At great personal and financial cost, Tutty chose to sit out two seasons of football while fighting for his right to change clubs – missing out on Balmain’s famous ’69 Grand Final victory – but eventually won a court case to overturn the League’s archaic transfer system. He joined the Panthers in 1971, but ironically finished his career back at Balmain in 1976 and coached the Tigers’ first-grade team in 1980.

This list originally appeared in The Book of NRL Lists, written by Will Evans and Nick Tedeschi, and published by Slattery Media Group in 2014. 

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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