Lance Franklin makes headlines in Sydney during NRL grand final week.
Lance Franklin makes headlines in Sydney during NRL grand final week. JOE Castro | aap Images

Buddy deal must deliver Swansong for cap bonus

IT TAKES something pretty sensational for the AFL to dominate both the front and back pages of Sydney's daily newspapers during NRL grand final week.

The revelation the biggest name in Australian rules football had indeed decided to make the biggest city in Australia his home, but as a Swan and not a Giant, as had been the expectation for the best part of 12 months, did the job.

But, of course, there was more.

The deal pieced together to get Lance Franklin into the red and white was like a bonus set of steak knives driven through the heart of every other club in the AFL, not least of all GWS and Hawthorn.

Designed to blow out of the water anything the Giants or Hawks could offer, the $10 million-over-nine-years deal was also a slap in the face with a big wad of cash to equality and fairness.

But if the Swans' offer didn't seem extravagant enough, with Franklin turning 27 in January, he might play only the next six or seven seasons but still pocket the eight-figure sum - as long as he's not the one calling it quits.

The Swans' deal with Franklin came 12 months after the then premiership-winning club threw everything but the kitchen sink at disgruntled Adelaide forward Kurt Tippett to win his services.

With that kitchen sink now set to be installed at Franklin's Bondi penthouse, and possibly plated in gold, the Swans will be paying two players roughly $2 million - and almost 20% of their $10 million salary cap - next season.

The pair, among the 10 highest paid players in the league, may become a part of Bloods folklore, but it is the AFL that has blood on its hands after creating what Carlton coach Mick Malthouse has bluntly described as a "monster".

The league has long provided the Swans with an additional 9.8% cost-of-living allowance to facilitate player retention, but that system is now seemingly being used and abused - and it must end.

On the same day as the Franklin revelation, recently retired Sydney player Mitch Morton explained on radio that many of the Swans' rookies "struggled" when it came to living expenses in Sydney, which begged the question, just how much of the club's bonus was going to those players who needed it most?

Outspoken Collingwood president Eddie McGuire summed up the feeling among the other clubs this week when he called it "a straight-forward rort".

While time will tell if Sydney has bought itself a third flag in 10 years, a club such as the cash-strapped Western Bulldogs must wonder when it will win a second in 100 years when they are forced to pay their players almost $2 million less.

With the AFL having looked over the intricacies of the deal on Wednesday, the Swans will officially lodge the paperwork required to get Franklin when the free agency period begins today.

Such was the expectation Franklin was headed for GWS, the Giants were seen as the victims this week and not Hawthorn, which was understanding of his need to escape the fishbowl of Melbourne, where he has been hounded by both the general public and media.

The Hawks could not have asked anything more of their champ over the past nine years ... other than not to defect to a premiership rival.

But there was a clear hint of the Giants feeling like the jilted lover when they let the cat out of the bag by tweeting they were withdrawing their offer because they were not going to be able to match the one put forward by the Swans.

As the matchmaker in the GWS-Franklin union, the AFL itself would have been more than a little annoyed as well. The flamboyant Franklin was to be the poster boy the Giants and the league desperately needed in Sydney's west.

But the AFL will have to comfort itself with the knowledge it has at least still got the most marketable player in the game's toughest market - and one who has the ability to steal more than a few headlines off rugby league, for better or worse.