New South Wales Blues coach Brad Fittler’s hardline stance on not picking players engulfed in controversy could cost gun prop Payne Haas his spot for the State of Origin opener.
Fittler’s preparation for the June 8 clash was rocked when it was revealed that Haas’ management had on Wednesday asked the Broncos for an immediate release due to a pay dispute.
Haas is contracted to the Broncos until the end of 2024 at roughly $800,000 a year, but his management is insistent on a significant pay rise.
Brisbane denied the request and Haas will play for the Broncos in their clash with the Titans at Suncorp Stadium on Friday, but whether he’s named in the Blues squad when it’s announced on Sunday night is a precarious prospect.
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Nine rugby league reporter Danny Weidler explained how the fiasco could strip Haas of his Origin spot.
“He is going to be a centrepiece in Brad Fittler’s team, but Fittler has always maintained he doesn’t want any outside distractions in his NSW Blues team, and this is a massive outside distraction,” Weidler said.
When James Bracey asked Fittler on 9News if the saga had put Haas’ position in the squad “in jeopardy”, the NSW coach did his best to dance around the question, but may have dropped a hint on his thinking.
“It’s not ideal at all, and I know from Payne’s point of view and Brisbane’s… I’m sure they want to clear this all up and get on with it,” Fittler said.
“They’re having a fantastic season and they’d hate for this to hijack it.”
Later, after Melbourne beat Manly, Fittler was asked point-blank on Nine’s NRL coverage whether he would still pick Haas in his Origin squad.
“Absolutely,” the coach replied.
Haas has become a crucial member of the Blues side since he made his debut in game one of the 2019 series.
Until news of his exit request broke, the 22-year-old was an undoubted selection in the Blues front row.
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Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Junior Paulo, Jake Trbojevic and Daniel Saifiti are all front-row candidates for Fittler, but Haas is widely considered the key man of the Blues forward pack.
Brisbane captain Adam Reynolds said Haas would turn up for the Broncos’ game against the Titans with the right attitude.
“I’ve spoken to Payne and he’s assured us that he’s playing tomorrow, and look, he’s a professional and I know he’ll do his job,” Reynolds told Triple M.
“But obviously it’s not the news you want to hear for someone who is an important part of your team, and fingers crossed that things get solved and that he’s at the Broncos for a very long time to come.
“Payne is a professional athlete and there’s no doubt he’ll turn up ready to play.”
Reynolds highlighted an issue with long-term contracts.
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“A lot of players sign on long-term deals. Take (Selwyn) Cobbo for example looking at a multi-year deal,” Reynolds said.
“The rise of these kids these days… they go from being 20 years old fringe first-graders to superstars of the game and they outgrow their contract pretty quick, so it’s sort of a hard one to speak on.
“Payne is a great player who probably signed for a lot less than what he’s worth.
“That’s the risk you take with long-term contracts.
“The longest contract I ever signed was after we won the comp with Souths (in 2014), but I was well established then and basically the club knew what they were getting from me and what I could deliver for them.
“These kids coming into first grade… some have only played a handful of games and they’re signing five-year deals and getting paid on potential, and they probably outgrow that sometimes.
“Maybe they might not live up to it, but it’s a hard one because rugby league is such a brutal game and you can’t play forever and obviously you want to make the most out of your career.
“It’s a tough discussion the NRL need to have.”
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