G’Experienced coach and administrator Phil Gould says Gold Coast‘s decision to sign a young David Fifita on huge money two years ago was “irresponsible” and detrimental to the wider NRL player market.
Fifita was only 20 years old when he joined the Titans from Brisbane on a deal worth $1.25 million a season, instantly making him the game’s highest paid player.
At that time he had already made his State of Origin debut for Queensland, and was considered the best up and coming backrower in the country.
But Gold Coast has not improved in the two seasons since he joined, and Fifita himself has fallen down the pecking order of the game’s elite forwards.
Gold Coast scraped into finals in 2021 but the club’s prized recruit was benched for seven of the last eight games that year.
Fifita started on the bench only three times this season, but the Titans went backwards badly and finished 13th on the ladder.
”If you go out and pay $1.2 million for a rookie forward who’s had 30 games because he scores a try every now and then, then what’s James Tedesco worth? What is Nathan Cleary worth?” Gould queried on Wide World of Sports’ Six Tackles with Gus podcast.
“They play him off the bench… you can’t have a bench player on that kind of money. You can’t even have a backrower on that sort of money unless he’s producing 80-minute performances every week and winning you games.”
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Gould believes the Titans would regret the big-money signing now, given the dire position the club finds itself in.
But he says the Fifita contract caused issues that were far more wide-ranging than just the glitter strip.
“They’ve probably got more important needs. You go back in time, when they signed him I said it was an irresponsible signing – not the player, not his talent, (but) it was an irresponsible amount of money for a backrower with such little experience,” Gould said.
“I said it would end up stifling them and I didn’t know if it would end up producing any better results, which is the way it’s turned out. Now that’s not David Fifita’s fault, he is a very talented player.
“It actually caused dramas with the whole player market, with the values in the market. When you get an outlier purchase like that, where someone goes and pays a ridiculous amount of money for a young backrower, then the other backrowers, fullbacks, halves, forwards in the competition say ‘well if he’s worth that, what am I worth?’
“It created a whole false economy and a whole false expectation. It was an irresponsible signing – on the money perspective – for the game, for the game itself.
“That comes from desperation from not having development programs to bring young talent through, you’re constantly trying to recruit a couple of wins to save your job or to save the board… they make knee-jerk decisions to overpay players, and that effects the market.
“You might grab a player who every now and then will win you a couple more games, but in the end it doesn’t help you.”
Gould argued Fifita is not worth his huge price tag given how poorly Gold Coast has performed in the last 12 months.
But he says any player’s value is skewed based on the success of the team they are in.
“There are very, very few million-dollar players in this game, who actually contribute to a high percentage win ratio for your team,” he said.
“You can justify it with other things – marketing, crowds, sponsorship… and you can try say it’s helped with this and that, and sometimes it does.
“But if you’re failing (on the field) it doesn’t make any difference whether you’ve got a bloke on $1.2 million or not.”
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