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Bulldogs are inflating player market, says Sharks chairman

Going: Andrew Fifita has signed with the Bulldogs.

Going: Andrew Fifita has signed with the Bulldogs. Photo: Getty Images

Cronulla chairman Damian Keogh has accused Canterbury of inflating the player market and called for changes to the NRL transfer system after losing Andrew Fifita and Michael Lichaa to the Bulldogs on respective deals worth $850,000 and $350,000 a season.

With Manly coach Geoff Toovey also hitting out over their attempts to lure Sea Eagles fullback Peta Hiku, the Bulldogs are coming under attack from rival clubs and Keogh said they had already driven up the cost of players.

Speaking ahead of Thursday's AGM, where members were told the Sharks would have gone close to breaking even in 2013 if not for $1.55 million in costs associated with the ASADA scandal, Keogh said it was unfair for fans to lose one of the club's biggest stars and most promising juniors just two weeks into the season after receiving offers from Canterbury they considered too good to refuse.

"I just think that is ridiculous and the wrong way to start a year," Keogh said. "We shouldn't be starting the season and having players announce they are going to other clubs after the first or second game of the season. It is a slap in the face for the fans."

Keogh said he was particularly unhappy about the departure of 20-year-old Lichaa, who the Sharks have been told was offered $1.1 million over three years by the Bulldogs.

The Junior Kangaroos hooker made his NRL debut in Monday night's match against the Bulldogs but has been dropped for Saturday night's local derby with St George Illawarra at Remondis Stadium after confirming one of the NRL's worst kept secrets when he advised Cronulla officials of his signing with Canterbury.

"The Bulldogs are doing a great job of creating inflation in the market at the moment," Keogh said. "There is some major inflation and the Bulldogs are the ones who are leading the charge on that at this stage."

Sharks officials assured the NRL there was no truth to a report that suspended coach Shane Flanagan was behind Lichaa's axing – an act that would have breached conditions of his 12-month ban requiring him to have no direct or indirect involvement with the club.

After signing Fifita and Lichaa, Canterbury are now after a fullback and Toovey was unimpressed they had targetted Hiku, as well as James Tedesco and Josh Hoffman.

"They have signed everyone else from every other club, but he is a quality and talented player and we are hoping he stays here," Toovey told reporters at Manly training on Thursday.

Keogh will attend a recruitment meeting on Friday but he believes clubs should not be allowed to sign opposition players until a trade period at the end of the season.

"That gives more opportunity for clubs to re-sign their own players so it creates more loyalty and that is another thing the fans want," he said. "You can't just do a marketing campaign and give lip service to it. You have got to make decisions which are going to endear the competition to the fans."

After also losing Tyrone Peachey to Penrith this season, Keogh questioned the value of developing junior talent.

"There is certainly no protection at the moment, or no incentive or encouragement for clubs to invest heavily in that side of the game because you are not protected at all," he said.

While the defections have compounded a horror start to the season for the Sharks, who have had to endure losses to the Titans and Bulldogs with skipper Paul Gallen, star five-eighth Todd Carney and Test back-rower Luke Lewis on a large casualty list, Fifita suspended and coach Shane Flanagan banned, Keogh said the club was doing well off the field.

While Cronulla reported a loss of $1.63 million last year, income from sponsorship, membership and attendances at home games were all up significantly from 2012 and overall revenue rose by just over $3 million.

However, total liabilities increased from $17.6 million in 2012 to $18.2 million and expenses increased by $4.8 million to $26.86 million, which included legal fees relating to the ASADA investigation and fines of $600,000 over the supplements program at the club in 2011 and $150,000 for salary cap breaches.

"Overall, it was a challenging year but in a lot of our core metrics, sponsorship was at the highest it has been over the past six years, membership was the highest in terms of dollar value than it has been in the last six years, match day attendances were the highest they had been in that six years and likewise with merchandise," Keogh said.

18 comments so far

  • There should be a transfer window like soccer, and transfer fees especially for local juniors that are signed to Under-20 sides at other clubs. Transfer fees are adequate compensation. In soccer many of the clubs in South America make all there money buy developing and selling players to Europe soccer clubs.
    There's no incentives right now to develop talent, just poach. Also maybe a transfer fee for senior 1st graders, who play for the team that developed them as local juniors. Soccer has transfer fees.
    The NRL should not get a AFL style draft, im no fan of drafts I think there a constraint of trade.

    Date and time
    March 20, 2014, 11:09PM
    • This article is absolutely ridiculous. What have the Bulldogs done wrong? NOTHING! If other clubs aren't being smart and not looking for players for next season how is that our fault. NRL clubs don't have to show "loyalty" to other clubs in regards to signing players. I have done my own research and found out that Luke Lewis signed with Sharks on the 20th of July and John Morris signed on the 10th of August in 2012. And Blake Ashford signed on 12th of July 2013. All 3 signings were done during the middle of the season. So maybe the Sharks should stop blaming the Bulldogs and deal with their own in house issues as players don't want to stick with the club considering their drugs & financial issues.

      Rachel Lawson
      Penrith, NSW
      Date and time
      March 21, 2014, 12:15AM
      • Don't blow a fuse Rachel. Those players had been told by their respective clubs at the time that they should look elsewhere as no contract would be offered to them. Very different from a player still with some time to run on their contract announcing they are leaving for another club. In regards to what Damian Keogh is saying - Lichaa will be on $350k having played only 1 game of first grade. Other experienced 1st grade players at the Bulldogs wouldn't even be on that much. Lastly, with the Bulldogs checkered past (trouble respecting women, fan behaviour etc) you're not really in a position to judge other clubs.

        Date and time
        March 21, 2014, 9:17AM
    • The sharks should take there own advice .How many west-tiger player have they gone after? West tigers / Canberra and Penrith ( even St George) are the club's that has its juniors poached !

      Date and time
      March 21, 2014, 12:44AM
      • How dare Keogh complain about junior development - they have more than half a team of players that played all their grade football at the Tigers! This is the pot calling the kettle black!

        Date and time
        March 21, 2014, 1:05AM
        • Damien Keogh is spot on with his call for the NRL to put a stop to poaching other clubs players at the start of the season. It was most disheartening as a Sharks Member to have Andrew Fifita announce his signing by the Bulldogs after the first game. Good luck to him as a footballers career is short but the way it was done leaves a bad taste in ones mouth. If the NRL believe the average fan believes The Bulldogs are within the Salary Cap they are dreaming. Time to go after the Big Boys Mr Smith.

          Gymea Bay
          Date and time
          March 21, 2014, 6:28AM
          • Was it disheartening when Fifita, Lewis, Graham, Ayshford, Morris, Gordon Heinington, etc all signed with the Sharks mid-season?

            Date and time
            March 21, 2014, 9:54AM
          • Sour grapes Robbie boy.

            Unfortunately Fafita and Lichaa realize a sinking ship when they see one.
            How would you, or anyone else outside of the Bulldogs know what their salary cap looks like for this year, and beyond.
            My advice to the Sharks is look to sign players from other clubs mid season to strengthen their roster if local juniors are leaving... (Oh wait, Ayshford, Lewis, Fafita, Heighington, Ryan ring a bell???)

            Unfortunately it's Life in the NRL 2014

            NO NO
            Date and time
            March 21, 2014, 11:06AM
        • The player market is set by the salary cap, so no amount of overpayment is going to have real consequences on inflation.

          Date and time
          March 21, 2014, 6:29AM
          • I have got to laugh at the CEO's of the NRL clubs when they moan about losing players to other clubs. Damien Keogh has to be kidding when he questions the value of developing local talent. The Cronulla side is full of players poached from other clubs, in particular Wests and Parramatta. I'm not a Cronulla supporter but I cannot see one Cronulla Junior in the side. Cronulla signs players from other clubs during the season so stop whinging and find Harold Holt

            Tuross Head NSW
            Date and time
            March 21, 2014, 7:00AM

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