They say a fool and his money are soon parted, but this time around, the Clown from the Goldtown seems to have a very deep wallet – and what’s more, it’s OUR STUFF he’s after.
The Sharks have been through a lean year or two and recent failures on the field – particularly losing out on hosting the 2009 Currie Cup final – are understood to have hit the union in the pocket. Commercial Director Rudi Straeuli is the guy holding the purse strings, of course and it has come down to him to ensure that the books balance – something he has done very well over the years. There is a fair bit of talk, though, that he’s been very careful to economise on the wages bill which makes sense in lean years. Then again, when it comes to contract renegotiations, those kinds of savings might just come back to bite you in the ass, particularly if players that you really would like to keep, feel that you’ve given them a raw deal in the past.
This is, of course, related to the recent news that Manie Reynecke (and his chief henchman Dick Muir) are chasing some pretty big Sharks signings indeed. No longer content to raid the junior ranks (5 of the Lions’ 7 tries last weekend were scored by Sharks age-group players), a weekend news report has indicated that John Smit, JP Pietersen and Ryan Kankowski are all on the shopping list. We’ve reported on the Smit story a number of times as it certainly isn’t a new development. Our information is that the prospect of working with Muir in a player-coach role has been enough to convince the Bok captain to move away from his beloved Sharks and the confirmation that he has yet to renew his Sharks contract, which expires in October, seems to add credence to these reports. If that in itself wasn’t enough (and I believe the Sharks have missed a trick here by not attempting to add Smit to their own coaching staff), the prospect of a frankly staggering R4 Million salary for a single season really ought to be the deal clincher.
Fact is, the Sharks probably cannot afford to pay John Smit that much money – not without selling Bismarck du Plessis. For the ongoing health of everybody involved, it’s probably a good thing if one of them moves on from Durban anyway and from a Sharks perspective, in terms of pure bang for buck, Bismarck would be a better investment right now. As much as I love Smittie – you all know I do and I know him personally – I feel that his on-field value to the Sharks in 2011 will be negligible and if the Lions want to pay him more than any other South African player has ever earned for a single season, I think we should let them.
It’s the other two players that concern me, as both Pietersen and Kankowski’s contracts come up for renewal at the end of this season and neither has yet committed his future to the Sharks. Kankowski’s contract allows the Sharks first rights to him, but that presumably means they would need to match whatever money any other party is prepared to put on the table. He has not currently received an offer from the Lions, but I’m sure that will change soon. Pietersen is alleged to be in talks with the Bulls, as well as the Lions and Sharks. I’ve heard that his wage demands are not far short of Smit’s, though, making a move to Pretoria unlikely. My gut feel is that both players would probably rather stay with the Sharks next year – even if only on one-year deals – then risk moving to a union where so much is uncertain. Then again, a career in rugby is a short one and as established stars, both would expect to earn a hefty chunk of money. Kankowski is certainly worth close to double the 1.5M a year salary he is currently on.
This is where Straeuli is going to have to step up to the mark and show us his worth. Getting into a bidding war against somebody who has seemingly no end to his resources is a a mug’s game, but this is the challenge that the Sharks face. Losing either Hoff or JP would, quite frankly, be a disaster, since both have shown over a number of seasons that they have the goods and know how to deliver when the chips are down. Let’s hope that all the scrimping and saving in other areas has left Straeuli with enough of a war chest that he can afford to put serious offers in front of these two stars, together with whatever other incentives are required to keep them in the black and white next season.
Come on, Rudi. You can do it!Tweet