Parramatta backrower Isaiah Papali’i said he will likely wait until the off-season to confirm whether or not he will join the Wests Tigers for 2023, in the latest example of the NRL’s farcical transfer situation.
The 23-year-old signed with the Tigers late last year, with his future seemingly settled well in advance of Parramatta’s 2022 campaign – instead, the situation has lingered on for months.
Papali’i himself said that the sacking of Michael Maguire had given him cold feet on the deal, which will lock him in at Concord until the end of 2025.
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“It was the coaching axing that went on. When I did sign it was talking to Madge, and he’s an awesome coach,” Papali’i told Nine News.
“It kind of rattled the cage a bit… I guess that was a massive factor for me.”
Papali’i is one of two massive signings – along with Penrith’s Api Koroisau – that could be absolutely transformative for the Tigers.
Both are among the best players in the world in their respective positions and although the Penrith hooker is now in his thirties, Papali’i will likely have close to a decade of footy ahead of him.
But while Tigers fans should be pumping their fists every time the young forward does something good – which is often – they will now have to wait and see whether he comes at all.
Papali’i said that he would make a call on the deal “somewhere in the off-season” – which begs the question, why even have contracts?
It would be utterly bizarre to see players in other sports remain at a club for 12 to 18 months after signing elsewhere, and yet it’s commonplace in the NRL – and much like the Matt Burton soap opera last year, this is a tiresome story that won ‘t go away, with the man himself acknowledging the “massive run” ahead of the Eels to try and make the top four, and possibly win a premiership.
“We have a massive opportunity and I don’t want to leave any stone unturned this year,” he said.
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Who can blame him for having second thoughts? The Tigers, even by their standards, have had a disastrous season, while other Eels players will no doubt be in Papali’i’s ear every day, begging him to stay.
Given the contract laws were changed a couple of years ago, the player has very little leverage – unless there was a contract clause relating to Maguire being part of the club in 2023.
But just like with Burton, fans of his current club are expecting the new club to acquiesce, and void the deal.
“People ask me about it, just even on the street – or family and friends are hitting me up – but that’s kind of for my manager to look after,” Papali’i said.
“Even if I don’t stay here, or I do go next year, I want to make sure that this year has no regrets.”
Presumably, there’s one way that Papali’i could ensure that the saga doesn’t remain “a distraction”, which to many is the worst thing an athlete can do in a team sport – and that’s to say he’ll honor the deal he signed.
Which, if you look at other quotes from Monday – he apparently did – telling The Sydney Morning Herald that he was “looking forward to working” with his new club.
Given both of those quotes came directly from the player, it’s hard to work out what the real story is – but the only thing that’s certain is that this will keep happening until a new contract system is put forward.
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