Andrew Fifita's management team has asked the NRL to investigate why his multi-million-dollar contract with Canterbury failed to come to fruition as it emerged that the Test prop knew the deal was on the verge of collapse when he made his controversial comments about wishing he'd signed with rugby union.
Representatives for Fifita met NRL officials at League Central on Tuesday to outline elements of the deal that Canterbury allegedly failed to honour after having reached agreement three weeks earlier, when the player signed a memorandum of understanding with the club.
It is understood the shortfall was worth up to $1 million over four years, with Fairfax Media told that the long-form contract Fifita received last Thursday was worth $335,000 under the salary cap and $250,000 in third-party agreements.
Those amounts increased over the term of the contract, which had been widely reported as being worth $3.4 millon over four years.
Fifita, who announced he had agreed to a deal with Canterbury on Twitter after the Sharks round-one match against the Gold Coast, was the subject of widespread condemnation after he told an AAP reporter last Friday he had regrets over his decision to join the Bulldogs and would have preferred rugby instead.
But it is understood those comments were a reaction to what he felt was a shortfall in the money promised.
If Fifita's intention was to force Canterbury's hand, he was successful, as the parties officially walked away from the deal on Monday.
However, the 24-year-old is unlikely to be able to earn the same amount he had expected to receive from the Bulldogs as rival offers were believed to include $650,000 per season from South Sydney and $700,000 per season to remain with Cronulla.
A teary Fifita told Cronulla teammates on March 10 that the Canterbury offer was too good to refuse and the Bulldogs confirmed his signing two days later.
Canterbury chairman Ray Dib was adamant the decision for his club and Fifita to go their separate ways was mutually agreed as the best decision for both parties.
"I found Andrew Fifita's management to be very professional, very commercial, very amicable and very fair - it was a pleasure dealing with them and I sincerely mean that," Dib said on Tuesday.
"I heard [it said] on talkback radio, 'We can't accept that the Bulldogs went in there and spoke to his manager and they were happy to go their separate ways, it just doesn't make sense'.
"I know it seems too simple but it is what happened . . . both parties . . . it is amazing when you get two parties together who act for the player's welfare and the club's welfare what you can come up with."
Bulldogs CEO Raelene Castle said on Monday the club had no issue accommodating Fifita under the salary cap or negotiating third party contracts and insisted the amount offered was less than reported.
Fifita returned to Sharks training on Tuesday morning not looking like someone who had just lost a multi-million-dollar contract. The prop was at his jovial best, laughing and mucking around where those close to him believe he is most comfortable – on the football field. He yahooed when he beat winger Beau Ryan in a sprint and trained with energy throughout the two-hour field session.
Cronulla coach Peter Sharp said Fifita had been distracted by his contract situation but had trained as a “leader” on Tuesday.
“The best thing Andrew could do was get his mind back on footy,” Sharp said. “It hasn’t been on footy. He hasn’t been focused, it’s obvious in the way he has performed.
“At the end of the day, Andrew is going to be OK. We’d all like to be in Andrew’s position. If he focuses on footy and gets his mind back on the job, then everything looks after itself.”
Sharp and Sharks skipper Paul Gallen have called on the club to recommence negotiations with Fifita. The Australian representative knocked back an offer of about $750,000 per season for four years from the Sharks to switch to the Bulldogs.
“We’ll definitely be an option again,” Sharp said. “What decision he makes is up to Andrew. We can only put our case on the table and give him some love.
“It’s not all doom and gloom for Andrew. He is still in a good position. He is still a wanted commodity and a good footy player. He just needs to get his mind back on the job.”
Cronulla chief executive Steve Noyce said it was too early to begin negotiations with Fifita.
“The immediate concern is the short-term future and making sure he is OK,” Noyce said. “That’s what we have been looking at it. We haven’t taken it any further.
“He seems OK. Players are always good when they are with each other in the training and playing environment. That’s a good place for him.