Eels feeling court out
Josh Papalii during a Raiders training session at ActewAGL Park. Photo: Jay Cronan
Parramatta has threatened legal action after Josh Papalii on Friday back-flipped on a three-year deal with the Eels to remain with Canberra.
And Raiders chairman John McIntyre drew the battle lines immediately by declaring ‘‘they’d better get a good lawyer.’’
The Eels are justifiably fuming after the backrower reneged on a contract starting 2014 he signed a month ago, to re-commit to the Raiders until the end of 2016.
It’s a massive boost for the Raiders before Sunday’s season-opener at Penrith, but Parramatta is furious the 20-year-old hasn’t honoured his commitment to the Eels.
Fairfax Media has been told the Eels will seek legal advice in an attempt to ensure Papalii honours his original commitment to them.
"A contract is a contract - we won't be letting him go without a fight," a source said.
Told of Parramatta’s comments, McIntyre fired back: ‘‘My message is good luck, they’d better get a good lawyer.
‘‘I come from the handshake times, so I have difficulty with the system the way it works now, but when it works to our advantage at the end of the day you accept it.
‘‘What you have to understand is Parramatta, like 15 other clubs, signed up to play by a certain set of rules.
‘‘They took advantage of the rule [to sign Papalii before round 13], now we’ve taken advantage of the rule.
‘‘You might say once bitten, twice shy.’’
The 20-year-old had signed with the Parramatta Eels last month, but took advantage of the round 13 clause to agree to terms with the Raiders on a deal reported to be $1.3 million over three years.
The NRL doesn’t register contracts until the end of round 13, giving the Raiders time to put in a better offer.
Papalii said in a statement the decision to remain with the Raiders in Canberra is based on discussions with his family and friends.
“Over the past couple of weeks I’ve spent a lot of time talking with my family about this decision and I’m comfortable that it’s the best thing for me, my career and my family,” Papalii said.
“It’s been a really tough decision to make, but in the end I had to do what was right for my family and I know I’ve done that.
“The Raiders have given me the chance to start my NRL career, and I’ve made a home in Canberra for myself and my family.’’
The Eels released a press release expressing their disappointment at Papalii’s change of heart.
“To say we are disappointed by Josh’s decision to not see through his verbal and written agreements to join the Parramatta Eels next season is an understatement,’’ Parramatta chief executive Ken Edwards said.
‘‘We are building something special here and we are only interested in people who are strong and committed to joining this organisation.”
Before Canberra confirmed Papalii’s retention on Friday, Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart was confident he had landed his first big-name signing for the club.
"I’m not nervous because he signed a legal document in front of his mother, in front of his manager and with our recruitment manager Peter Nolan," Stuart said.
"No I’m not nervous. I’m very excited by the signing. He’s going to be a great asset. I know there’s been a lot of pressure on him which is unfair because he signed a legal document and he was happy.
"I think it puts too much pressure on players to make decisions too soon. I think it’s a rule that we can certainly look at. But that’s what we have to deal with at the moment. They are the guidelines and we have done everything sound in regards to signing Josh and as a club we’re very excited about that signing. It’s black and white, he signed a legal document."
In 2008 the round 13 rule worked against the Raiders after they signed Panthers back rower Nathan Smith, who later opted to remain at Penrith.
In 1994 the Raiders won a court battle against the Warriors after club legend Ruben Wiki signed a contract with both clubs.
The Raiders spotted Papalii through their affiliation with the Souths Logan club in Brisbane and recruited him for their SG Ball (under-18) team.
Papalii has made 40 appearances since his first-grade debut in 2011 and has become an integral part of the Raiders forward pack.
He is regarded as one of the most damaging hitters in the competition and was involved in a tug-of-war for his international eligibility.
The Auckland-born Papalii represented the Junior Kiwis, but changed his allegiance to Queensland, the state he has spent most of his life in.
with Lee Gaskin