After playing a starring role in his side’s victory over the Auckland Blues at Eden Park on Friday night, Will Genia sat down with Queensland Reds coach Ewen McKenzie at midnight and told him he was leaving to join the Western Force.
After months of negotiations dating back to December, in which Genia swung between recommitting to the Reds or looking overseas and to other Super Rugby teams, the Wallaby halfback had been given an ultimatum to finally deliver some concrete news.
That decision will see him pocket up to an astounding $600,000 at the Force, where he will join Wallaby teammate David Pocock in a duo that will consume an enormous chunk of the franchise’s salary cap.
News of Genia’s defection has stunned Reds fans, who remember all too well the Force’s pilfering of the Reds ranks in 2005 and Berrick Barnes’ shift to the Waratahs.
In the end, the Reds did their best to keep a player that had progressed through their system for five years but couldn’t compete with the enormous financial lure from the West.
News was leaked out of the Force’s offices last night before any of Genia’s Reds’ teammates had even been told of their vice-captain’s decision.
Queensland had hoped to issue a statement on Monday, after Genia had spoken to the playing group, but their hand was forced last night when Tim Horan broke the news on Twitter.
There was smoke during the week about Genia but it turned into a wildfire last night once news of his dramatic shift emerged, even if a surprised Genia last night said he was yet to sign any deal and was baffled by the timing of the announcement.
Genia’s new management had wanted $400,000 from the Reds but brisbanetimes.com.au understands it continued to increase, gradually putting Queensland Rugby out of the race.
The Reds know the value of Genia but were reluctant to enter a bidding war that could have sent the franchise back to the bad old days, when it eventually had to enter into joint governance with the ARU to keep it afloat.
On the back of a Super Rugby title, the Reds finally banked a profit last year after being a complete financial basket case and drowning in debt.
That success means a host of other players within the group are upping their asking price, while the Reds are determined to hold onto future stars like flanker Liam Gill, who knocked back big offers to remain at Ballymore.
Queensland Rugby made the best offer we could to retain Will's services in Queensland.
“We love Will but we have a responsibility to strengthen the code. We won’t see our organisation go broke, or not be able to pay the bills,” Reds chief executive Jim Carmichael said.
“I believe Queensland Rugby made the best offer we could to retain Will's services in Queensland.
“However, the opportunity presented to head west was ultimately more appealing to Will.”
Part of the difficulty in current player negotiations is the lingering uncertainty over the salary cap figure and potential for legitimate third party contributions in coming seasons.
A figure of $4.8 million has been floated conditional on the result of a collective bargaining agreement between the Rugby Union Players Association and the Australian Rugby Union.
Should that fail to eventuate, the current cap of $4.1 million would remain in place, meaning there is an inherent lack of clarity in the potential earn of off-contract players. It is believed Genia’s figure at the Force is based on an increase in the cap.
Force chief executive Vern Reid was reluctant to confirm the terms of the deal had been agreed upon.
“It’s mystifying, simply because the details haven't been finalised,” Reid said. “I’m not sure it’s frustrating, I think it’s just surprising.
“At this stage, details of Will and other contracts are still being worked out and there will not be an announcement.”
Genia is gone and the Reds will now turn their attention to the other part of their glittering halves pairing, Quade Cooper, a close friend of Genia who is also off contract at the end of the season.
Cooper hasn’t played this year due to a knee injury but has long spoken about a shift to rugby league, while he remains a chance of joining another close friend, James O’Connor, at the Melbourne Rebels.
Queensland has a back-up halfback in Nick Frisby but has invested in Ben Lucas, a former specialist number nine who has since been used as a utility player behind Genia.
The Lucas option has gained some strength with today's announcement that he was re-signed with the Queensland franchise for 2013 "and beyond".
Already last night, Reds fans took to the official Facebook page to vent their anger at Genia, with many calling for him to be benched and McKenzie begin to introduce a new number nine to the mix for the remainder of the season.
Given Genia’s importance to the Reds, that’s unlikely to happen but how the halfback’s reception at the next home game will be intriguing to say the least.