Gold Coast local Jai Arrow will join his old coach at South Sydney. Picture: Tony Feder/Getty
Gold Coast local Jai Arrow will join his old coach at South Sydney. Picture: Tony Feder/Getty

How Titans bungled Arrow contract negotiations

JAI Arrow should have been the captain of the Gold Coast Titans for the next eight years.

Instead, the Queensland Origin star will reconnect with former coach Wayne Bennett at South Sydney after the Rabbitohs pulled off a Christmas heist.

The Titans should never have allowed South Sydney to poach Arrow on a four-year contract, worth more than $3.2 million, from 2021.

But the Gold Coast left the door open for the slick Rabbitohs to pounce on the man they had earmarked to replace retired English superstar Sam Burgess.

Arrow, 24, is a proud Gold Coast product and the Glitter Strip is where his heart is.

He was the poster boy for a club that has constantly claimed it wants to be built on local players.

After leaving the Broncos in 2017, Arrow gave everything he had in 38 games for the Titans during former coach Garth Brennan's unsuccessful two-year tenure.

His performances were so impressive he earned a State of Origin debut in his first year at the Titans.

He has made four appearances for the Maroons, with injury costing him two more.

Arrow is the type of player you can build a team around.

His effort can never be questioned. The way he plays the game has taken a toll on his body but he isn't the type to slow down or think of self-preservation.

Jai Arrow has become a Maroons mainstay. Picture: AAP/Darren England
Jai Arrow has become a Maroons mainstay. Picture: AAP/Darren England

The first move new Titans coach Justin Holbrook should have made was to sit Arrow down, tell him he was the man to lead the team and give him the Gold Coast's captaincy.

But the Titans' decision-makers called Arrow's bluff, believing he wouldn't leave the club and refused to engage in a bidding war with South Sydney.

Arrow has been unfairly criticised for his decision to leave the Titans.

The Titans' final offer to Arrow was worth, on average, $675,000 a season over four years. The club only matched the four-year tenure offered by South Sydney late in negotiations after initially offering three years.

The South Sydney deal came in comfortably above $800,000 a season over the life of the contract.

Jai Arrow playing for Australia at the World Cup 9s. Picture: Brett Hemmings/Getty
Jai Arrow playing for Australia at the World Cup 9s. Picture: Brett Hemmings/Getty

That's at least a $500,000 difference in the total value - a sacrifice few would be willing to make in any industry, let alone the brutal world of rugby league.

The plight of Burgess, forced into retirement by a shoulder injury at the peak of his career, was a warning for Arrow.

Arrow would have stayed at the Titans if there was not such a discrepancy in the deals, but the final offers were worlds apart.

South Sydney's acquisition of Arrow was a slick operation.

Rabbitohs boss Shane Richardson flew to the Gold Coast to meet Arrow, outlining the club's vision and where he would fit into their NRL premiership plans.

Richardson's words were backed up by the figures on the formal offer and when Bennett spoke publicly about his desire to have Arrow at Redfern there was no doubt South Sydney was serious.

But the Titans, scarred by a series of recruitment blunders over the years, refused to believe Arrow would walk.

Jai Arrow with model girlfriend Taylah Cannon.
Jai Arrow with model girlfriend Taylah Cannon.

The Gold Coast's salary cap is in dire straits, partly due to the work of previous employees but also the decisions of some still involved in the club.

Halfback Ash Taylor will be paid $1 million next year. Hooker Nathan Peats is on more than $600,000, the same with forwards Jarrod Wallace and Kevin Proctor.

The signings of Penrith trio Bryce Cartwright, Leilani Latu and Tyrone Peachey, a combined $1.5 million-a-year, has so far been a disaster.

One of the most painful for the club to cop has been the signing of Canberra prop Shannon Boyd, also on a deal worth north of $600,000 a season.

Boyd and Arrow share the same manager, and Titans recruitment chief Mal Meninga has vowed the club will no longer pay "overs" for players.

It's a fair stance to take in light of past decisions, but in this case the Titans picked the wrong player to play tough with.

Wayne Bennett snatched Arrow from the Titans. Picture: AAP/Joel Carrett
Wayne Bennett snatched Arrow from the Titans. Picture: AAP/Joel Carrett

At the same time they were playing hardball with Arrow, the Titans signed highly rated Melbourne teenager Tino Fa'asuamaleaui on a $2 million contract for three years.

A Gympie product, Fa'asuamaleaui has played five NRL games and will depart the successful Storm system to link with the Titans on $650,000 a season.

The money for Fa'asuamaleaui was so much, the Storm released a statement saying they couldn't match it for such an inexperienced player.

While Fa'asuamaleaui could yet be a revelation for the Titans, the club has lost the man that should have been leading them out for best part of the next decade.

And few are more disappointed about that than Arrow himself.