Why Broncos brightest young star has still not re-signed
It is one of the NRL's great mysteries - why is Broncos sensation David Fifita, the code's hottest prospect, still off-contract as the game hits the winter months?
The answer is as mysterious as the mystery itself.
It involves a confluence of forces: a little-known player agent, a proud mother, two rival Queensland clubs, a salary cap and a 20-year-old too young to grasp the contractual politics swirling around him.
For almost a year the rugby league world has been left scratching its head at how Fifita, the most damaging emerging back-rower in the NRL, cannot have a home for next season.
The full story has not been told.
The issue goes beyond a traditional contract negotiation. If it were that simple, Fifita would sit down with the Broncos and Titans, talk turkey, make a decision, then ink a long-term contract extension to be the face of a Queensland franchise.
But this is where the situation gets tricky.
Fifita and his mother Gwen are currently caught in an off-field agent's web in which the Broncos star's official manager, Steve Deacon, is not, in their eyes, his true manager.
Until the managerial mess is sorted out, Fifita will not be signing with anyone, anywhere, anytime soon.
As a 15-year-old, a young Fifita was spotted playing for Souths Acacia Ridge by a player agent called Michael Hudson, who wasted no time snapping up the wannabe NRL star.
At the time, Hudson worked in tandem with another agent in Deacon, who had played 49 first-grade games for Easts and Gold Coast between 1989-95.
But when Hudson went in another direction in life, his deal with Fifita was transferred to Deacon, who also managed Latrell Mitchell last year before the Souths ace linked with a rival agent.
Deacon's representative arrangement with Fifita expires in December. The two parties have had a professional breakdown. In the past year, Fifita and his mum have barely spoken with Deacon. The issue is not personal. Deacon has done nothing wrong.
The Fifita clan have simply never felt close to Deacon, prompting Gwen to play a more active role lately in negotiations with interested clubs.
The dilemma for Fifita surrounds the money Deacon stands to pocket if he signs a new deal with the Broncos.
The average agent's commission in the NRL is six per cent. If, for example, Fifita signs a three-year deal worth $3 million tomorrow, Deacon would stand to earn $180,000.
Even if Fifita splits with his agent in December, which he plans to do, Deacon, under NRL agency rules, is entitled to a percentage of the total value of any new contract the Broncos forward signs.
This is why Fifita is perplexed. He cannot understand why he should pay a cent more of any new deal to a manager he no longer wants to work with.
Thus, the only way to minimise a commission to Deacon is to sign a one-year deal in the coming months.
Then, when their December deadline arrives, Fifita can look to find a new manager to lead his affairs moving forward and sign a mega-deal.
The other impediment for the Broncos is the salary cap. Incredibly, Souths offered Fifita $1.2 million a season earlier this year, a figure he knocked back because he has no desire to move to Sydney.
Brisbane can afford around $700,000 annually under their cap. Their head-of-football, Peter Nolan, has never worked so hard in 20 years to get a deal done.
The Broncos are exploring third-party opportunities, but in the COVID-19 climate, few businesses can afford a spare $100,000 to sponsor a footballer, even one as good as Fifita.
That opens the door for the Titans. If the issue was solely about money, the Broncos privately concede they would lose Fifita.
For now, the management saga has bought the Broncos more time. Time is ticking. Whether Brisbane can scrap together more dollars to keep their NRL superstar is the $1 million question.
Originally published as Why Broncos brightest young star has still not re-signed