Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

League: Cash king in contract talks

Kieran Foran is on a cut price deal this year at the Warriors. Photo / Photosport
Kieran Foran is on a cut price deal this year at the Warriors. Photo / Photosport

If Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson are at Mt Smart this time next year, they could be the highest-earning halves pairing in the history of the NRL.

The Auckland club hope to retain the Kiwis combination - who have made a promising start to their Warriors partnership - but doing so will take up a massive chunk of their salary cap.

It's the price of having two marquee halves. It will probably be worth the investment, but has always been an extremely difficult thing to do.

Manly couldn't manage it a few years ago, unable to hold on to Daly Cherry Evans and Foran as they came into their prime, with the Brookvale club eventually opting to prioritise the Queenslander. James Maloney was squeezed out of Bondi as his value increased, with the Roosters already forking out for Mitchell Pearce and market forces meant that the Broncos were unable to keep both Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford.

Johnson is already believed to be the highest paid player at the Warriors, and his next contract will require a significant upgrade, especially with the increased salary cap from 2018.

Foran is on a cut price deal this year at the Warriors, nothing like the estimated A$4.8 million ($5.2m) four-year contract the Eels signed him to ahead of the 2015 season. His arrangement is a reflection of the psychological and emotional issues that hung over him last year, as well as the injury concerns with his damaged shoulder. The Warriors were one of the few clubs prepared to take a punt on him, and so far it has paid off.

But Foran's next contract will look markedly different. In just his first two games Foran has shown his class and quality, and grabbed the attention of power brokers across the NRL. He's now a player in demand once again, arguably the most accomplished half on the open market, aside from perhaps Cooper Cronk.

The only other halves pairing that might come close, in terms of cost, to a Foran-Johnson combination next year, would be Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan at the Cowboys. Four-time Dally M winner Thurston ranks as one of biggest earners in the sport and Morgan is a Queensland and Australian representative.

Otherwise, you have to go back to the late 1990s, when the Super League war meant that some deals resembled monopoly money. Laurie Daley and Ricky Stuart were already on huge contracts at Canberra, before the dispute between Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer drove salaries into the stratosphere.

It was a similar case with Allan Langer and Kevin Walters. When Super League came along, they had been the Broncos scrum base combination for six years, winning premierships in 1992 and 1993. Their pay packets also swelled considerably during the Super League episode, though probably not as much as Stuart and Daley due to the plethora of stars at the Broncos. The only other comparable halves pairing in terms of salaries might have been Andrew and Matthew Johns at the Knights. Their careers also dovetailed with the code's civil war, and the siblings were on mega deals after their 1997 ARL Premiership victory, with Andrew one of the highest earners in the sport.

- Herald on Sunday

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