Manu’s move shows that the Roosters’ sombrero doesn’t exist – and that his departure is their call
Finally, the NRL salary cap strikes the Sydney Roosters.
The club has admitted defeat in their attempts to keep Joey Manu, with the Kiwi star set to depart Bondi for rugby union, most likely in France, most likely for a pay packet around $1.1m per season.
Manu’s decision to earn more money in the other code shows that they are just as subject to the salary cap as everyone else – and that the decision to let their star centre depart is exactly that, a decision.
It’s been a running joke around the traps in the NRL that the Chooks exist under a different salary cap to the rest of the NRL, as year on year they add to an already stacked squad.
Like most jokes, there is an element of truth to it. While the Roosters do pay the same as everyone else, they get significant advantages that are beyond some, though not all, of their peers.
There’s location, for one.
Just like everyone else in Australia, players like to live in nice areas, and you only have to look at the house prices to know that the Eastern Suburbs is a highly desirable place to live and work.
They aren’t the only team that gets this – Manly, Souths and Cronulla, for example, also have a beach close to where they train – but it is something that makes the Roosters more attractive than some other clubs in Sydney and plenty of other clubs that aren’t in the big city.
If you’re offered, say, $400,000 to play for the Raiders and live in Canberra, you might realistically accept $350,000 to play for the Roosters and live in Bondi.
At the very least, if you bought a house there when you signed a three-year deal, the acceleration of Eastern Suburbs property prices would likely ensure that any shortfall in wage packet by the time your contract was up.
It, obviously, isn’t a deal breaker, and the Panthers tend to go alright 50km from the beach, but it’d be foolish not to think it does matter at least in some cases.
There’s also the structure of the club.
Being based in the richest part of rugby league land and with a board that features multiple established and successful businesspeople, the Roosters can offer post-career opportunities that few can match.
Multiple players have mentioned this as factors in their decision to join Easts, and it’s something that the Roosters can and do value-add to deals that is totally within the rules.
Throw in the years of success, the pulling power of Trent Robinson as a coach and the chance to play with the guys they already have and it’s easy to see why players make the choices they make.
The Chooks aren’t the only ones who do this, of course.
Jack Wighton just took unders to play for Souths for a whole host of reasons that aren’t to do with money, and players are humans with desires that, believe it or not, are often nothing at all to do with cash or football.
Perhaps the more interesting angle into this Manu decision is actually that the Chooks have chosen to let him leave when they have.
The $1.1m offered from French rugby union is roughly what the club pay James Tedesco now, and what they could have offered Manu from 2026, when the fullback job will be free.
Teddy will be 33 by the time the 2026 season starts and is already the oldest active fullback in the NRL, while Manu has won a Golden Boot playing 1 for New Zealand.
Luke Keary was up at the end of this year, but will be extended into 2025. The five eighth is already 32 and has a long history of concussions that many have suspected might see him retire in the near future.
They’ll also likely lose Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, another big earner, at the end of the year with his deal up and the enforcer likely to hang up the boots.
With three big pay packets departing, it would have been possible for the club to make a deal that saw Manu accept the $800,000 he was offered to play centre in 2024 and potentially 2025 before graduating onto a bigger wage to play fullback after Tedesco and, if he wanted it, captain the team as well, with all the third-party opportunities that brings.
Big clubs with marquee names have not been afraid to pay top dollar to keep them at the club.
Kalyn Ponga, Nathan Cleary, Cameron Munster and Daly Cherry-Evans all earn more than the $1.1m that Manu will get to play in France.
For a player of his qualities, at his age and with his experience, it would not have been unreasonable for the Roosters to meet that expectation for a contract that would have taken Manu into the same echelon of the NRL’s top earners.
It’s hard to justify that percentage of the cap on a centre, but given Tedesco’s contract situation and age, the natural progression to play fullback would have covered that.
It might be that Manu never had any intention of extending his deal in the first place.
He’s expressed an interest in playing for the All Blacks, describing it as every Kiwi kid’s dream, but that won’t be an option if he is playing in France or Japan.
It might also be that he fancies a new challenge and a different environment – remember how footballers aren’t all motivated by cash and sports – that could be facilitated by a nice pad by the beach in Perpignan or a chic flat in Paris.
That information is something that the club will know but likely will not come out for a long time. Instead, all we can do is read into their actions and assess incentives.
The Roosters absolutely could have made Manu their top earner, most important player and the figurehead of the next era under Trent Robinson.
Instead, they stopped the bidding and let someone else take over. That’s their call – and their salary cap limitations. After all, they do exist in the Eastern Suburbs after all.