NRL’s Hall of Fame for recruitment shockers
Disgruntled fans from struggling clubs often look at the Sydney Roosters' star-studded roster as proof the salary cap is a farce.
Yet we conveniently forget stories like the one James Tedesco told when he originally quit Wests Tigers in 2017.
What Tedesco said back then was he could have got more money to stay at the Tigers but chose the Roosters because "it was a good opportunity for me to be at a strong club".
Now cynics will say, 'pull the other leg, Teddy, of course it was about the money'.
But what can't be disputed is that while Tedesco was going to be well paid wherever he went, he has since won two premierships with his career soaring to phenomenal heights.
Meanwhile, the NRL's longest finals drought stretching back to 2011 continues at the Tigers.
So, is it the Roosters' fault Tedesco took less money to leave, or should the Tigers shoulder that responsibility for not being able to convince a local junior to stay after offering him more money?
Because this is the game within the game that separates the best from the rest … salary cap or no salary cap; this century or the one before.
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It's not simply about identifying the right players at the right time, but just as crucially signing them at the right price so it doesn't weaken a roster in other areas.
And Tedesco is painful proof why the Tigers are the reigning kings in the NRL's Hall of Fame for recruitment stuff ups, while it points directly to why clubs like the Roosters, Melbourne, Penrith, Canberra and South Sydney seem to be charging further ahead by the season.
The game's best player will dig another knife into the Tigers' hearts this Sunday when the former Camden Rams junior leads the Roosters onto Campbelltown Stadium.
Throw in the fact the Tigers let Ryan Papenhuyzen and Josh Addo-Carr go in recent years and it must be even more heartbreaking for their fans.
Just as Canterbury would be having nightmares after watching the ageless Morris twins carve up the Sea Eagles.
It's hard to believe the Bulldogs let them walk at the end of 2018 because the club wanted to focus on the future.
Yet, at 34, the Morris boys remain in the top five players of their respective positions, both playing on bargain deals at the Roosters while the Bulldogs continue their rebuild.
Damien Cook was another let go by the Dogs before his career rocketed at Souths.
Likewise, former Canterbury pup Reed Mahoney, part of a player swap some years ago that saw Parramatta pay the Dogs a paltry $1500 for Mahoney's release.
Across the league there are a stack of examples as to why getting recruitment and retention right is arguably even more important than coming up with the best coaching tactics, facilities and sport science innovations.
This season Tyson Frizell is the early contender for buy of the year at Newcastle while angry St George Illawarra fans are left to curse another one that got away.
Just as Manly let go of Addin Fonua-Blake a season after Api Koroisau went to Penrith so Manly could retain Manese Fainu, who then signed a two-year extension when he was already stood down while awaiting a court trial.
That's left the Sea Eagles without a recognised dummy-half this year until they signed Karl Lawton from the Warriors on Wednesday.
Stop and contemplate that for a moment.
Then you've got Viliame Kikau, Kalyn Ponga and Brandon Smith who all escaped the Cowboys' clutches.
But a club like Melbourne can lose Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith in quick time and replace them with Papenhuyzen, Jahrome Hughes and Harry Grant, and the system just clicks along like nothing changed.
At Penrith we are only now really starting to see the rewards for the work Phil Gould did to create a junior development system that is the envy of all clubs.
While Canberra is back on the rugby league map by thinking outside the square and going to England to pick up bargains that turned into overnight NRL sensations.
It shows it can be done if you do it right.
One of the biggest talking points to come out of round one was the growing gap between the haves and have-nots.
Even though it is too early to start making any definitive judgments, there are legitimate fears it might only get worse as a result of the new rules designed to speed up the game.
Yet it's not the salary cap causing the problem.
For example, in The Daily Telegraph's Rich 100 last year Daly Cherry-Evans was listed as the top paid player on $1.25 million-a-season.
Yet at the Roosters' Luke Keary was on a reported $700,000, a massive $525,000 less than DCE.
While Keary played all over Cherry-Evans last week, there is no doubt he has a far better roster around him.
But just looking at their respective salaries highlights why the devil is in the detail - because it's not the so-called sombrero giving the Roosters their edge, but smart management.
The good clubs have always known that opportunity for success is the greatest temptation they have to offer, which only makes the job for struggling clubs even tougher - often thrusting them into panic buying.
Long before the salary cap even existed, supercoach Jack Gibson used to say winning starts in the front office.
And there have been multiple changes on and off the field in the years since, but that old adage is as important today as ever.
Originally published as NRL's Hall of Fame for recruitment shockers