Test prop Andrew Fifita is eyeing a switch to rugby union after pulling out of a $3.2 million, four-year deal to join Canterbury that would have made him the highest paid front-rower in the game.
Just days after declaring that he wished he had signed with rugby union because of criticism from fans over his decision to leave Cronulla, Fifita stunned the league world when it was announced he had failed to finalise the lucrative deal with the Bulldogs.
Canterbury chief executive Raelene Castle shot down speculation that the club had cancelled Fifita’s contract over the comments he made last Friday or that salary cap problems over a third-party deal were behind the deal collapsing.
‘‘We tried to meet today and see if we could talk through the final parts of the deal but we couldn’t agree terms so we agreed mutually that it was the best thing to walk away,’’ Castle said.
However, it has been learnt Fifita wanted out of the deal as he is eyeing a switch to rugby.
His management company, I.am Athlete Management, said they had ‘‘several options in the pipeline to explore’’. The Sharks are known to be keen to try again to retain the Australian World Cup star.
Castle said there had been no problems with the Bulldogs meeting the financial terms of the deal, which are believed to have been worth $650,000 plus a third-party agreement with an indigenous education body worth $150,000. She also insisted Canterbury could have accommodated Fifita under the salary cap and said suggestions the third-party agreements were worth up to half the value of the deal or involved club sponsors were incorrect.
‘‘We could have made both of those things happen,’’ Castle said when asked if a third-party agreement had fallen over or the Bulldogs had problems with the salary cap.
While the Canterbury hierarchy was unimpressed by Fifita’s comments last week, Castle said the club had not pulled the deal for that reason. ‘‘They are certainly not ideal comments when you are signing a marquee player and you want them to be excited about coming to the Bulldogs but ultimately they were not the reason we could not agree to terms,’’ she said. ‘‘I can honestly say that wasn’t a factor in the discussions we had today with his management group.’’
Castle said the club had announced the recruitment of Fifita before finalising the deal after he tweeted that he had signed with Canterbury. However, she said the 24-year-old had signed only a memorandum of understanding, and the parties could not agree on the final terms of the contract.
‘‘There was a couple of things and we just couldn’t get there so we both agreed it was best to walk away,’’ Castle said. ‘‘He had signed an MoU, which is a short-form contract and it is not until you get to the NRL playing contract that you get down to the nitty-gritty of all the different elements of the deal and ultimately when we looked at those in the long form we couldn’t reach agreement.’’
With $500,000 still left under their salary cap from releasing Ben Barba to Brisbane at the end of last season, Castle confirmed the Bulldogs would again be active in the transfer market and their priority may now be on signing a quality fullback rather than a big name prop.
If so, that may be a concern to Wests Tigers and Manly as their young fullbacks James Tedesco and Peta Hiku are both known to be in Canterbury's sights.