Haas’ Kelly scuffle nothing major but may damage hopes of being a $1 million-plus player

Payne Haas’ dopey scuffle with Albert Kelly hardly registered on the rugby league Richter scale of off-field atrocities.

It appears it was one of those dumb incidents that happen when adult males get too full of themselves, and usually too full of liquid of a certain variety, and push literally leads to shove, and then a sneaky left jab.

And rugby league being rugby league, some goose filmed it and thought it would be a good idea to circulate the footage.

Brisbane put out a statement on Monday to put out the bushfire it created to basically say the players had spoken to the NRL Integrity Unit about it and will cop their medicine when it’s dished out.

For the average player, this kind of incident matters little.

But for Haas, who wants a giant pay packet to match the imposing impact he has on games, it is the kind of stupidity which can turn a seven-figure salary into six.

There are only a few NRL players who are on $1 million or more a season. Most of them deserve it. Some are still underpaid given their importance to their team. Some are perhaps not delivering value for money but that’s usually a case of club CEOs splashing too much cash rather than a player underperforming after inking a deal.

And for Haas, who has had two high-profile previous incidents which cost him a combined seven matches and $70,000 in fines over the past three years, it’s another red flag to the CEO who offers him the next contract he wants to sign, whether that’s at the Broncos or elsewhere.

The NSW and Australian front-rower was justifiably bemused before the start of the season when he was asked about his next contract. He’s signed up at the Broncos until the end of 2024 so there literally is no rush.

He has changed agents recently because he believes he’s underpaid on his current deal and Brisbane are keen to extend his tenure at Red Hill much later in the decade.

Haas can like it or lump it but he needs to know that for Brisbane or any club to open the purse strings as widely as he wants, they will expect him to be the face of their franchise.

The kind of player they can put on billboards, membership campaigns and junior recruitment pushes, the kind that will represent sponsors without any mutterings about what he’s been getting up to off the field.

A lot of sportspeople want the salaries that come with being a professional without necessarily all the responsibility – it’s a phenomenon that’s not just isolated to Haas or rugby league players for that matter. 

On playing talent alone, Haas is arguably the best prop in the game and if fellow forwards Jason Taumalolo and David Fifita at the Cowboys and Titans respectively have salaries that look like telephone numbers, then he should as well.

But the cold hard facts about cold hard cash in the NRL is that CEOs will be wary if incidents like this one keep happening.

Payne Haas of the Broncos

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

For anyone who has been living under a rugby league rock or is smart enough to avoid social media, footage came to light of Haas and Kelly engaged in a tussle, grappling with each other before the veteran five-eighth tries to grab the taller prop by the throat. 

Haas reacts by delivering a left jab to Kelly before pushing him away with a shove to the face as they move away off camera. 

He calls Kelly as a “f—– c—” while Kelly repeatedly claims he didn’t step on Haas’ shoes. 

It would be peak rugby league if all this drama emanated from a player getting upset that one of his teammates had stepped on his shiny new kicks. Oh the humanity.

Broncos coack Kevin Walters told reporters at training on Monday he was disappointed and denied there was a culture problem at the club. “They kissed and made up on the night, it’s all good.”

It’s unclear when the video was taken, Walters would only say it was a few weeks ago. Kelly suffered a foot injury in Saturday’s 20-6 loss to the Warriors which is expected to put him out for 3-4 months. 

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The penalty for Haas’ first indiscretion as an NRL player seemed harsh – the Broncos banned him from the first four rounds of 2019 and fined him $20,000 for failing to cooperate with an NRL integrity unit investigation into allegations his family members were involved in a brawl at a Queensland Cup game.

Brisbane’s CEO at the time, Paul White, said he hoped it sent a strong message to then teenager and “we are confident that Payne will learn his lesson”.

Last year he probably got off lightly when he was suspended only three matches and fined $50,000 after he narrowly avoided a criminal conviction but was issued a two-year good behaviour bond after he fronted Tweed Heads Local court charged with intimidating police officers during an off-season incident.

He made a public apology and this time it was Haas saying he had learned his lesson.

The sanctions for this latest indiscretion are unlikely to be too major but it’s the cost they are likely to have on Haas’ potential future earnings that will cut the deepest.

Some players unfortunately never learn the lesson and end up heading to the Super League or an overseas rugby club or end up in the bush because they don’t heed the warning signs.

Haas is still only 22. Time and talent is on his side. It’s now up to him.

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