Brett Kimmorley has had a fantastic career.
A Premiership winner, a State Of Origin veteran, a Test player, there are very few things Kimmorley has not won over the course of his amazing career.
There is one thing though that I’m sure he would change if he got the chance.
Newcastle Knights, Hunter Mariners, Melbourne Storm, Northern Eagles, Cronulla Sharks, Canterbury Bulldogs.
Kimmorley could have been a great at any one of those clubs. His first move was understandable. His second, forced. From that moment on though his destiny was in his own hands.
Kimmorley won a Premiership win Melbourne in just his second season with the club. He went on to claim the Australian halfback spot over Andrew Johns (With thanks to Chris Anderson). It was all going in the right direction for him.
Then he chased the money.
His big money move to the North Eagles was met with great fanfare. He mad a heap of money out of the move and got to move back to New South Wales. Of course, the Northern Eagles went broke. He became a free agent. So what did he do?
He chased the money.
Sure it wasn’t as much money but by now Kimmorley was no longer see as the player you could build you team around for the next ten years. He was older, still playing great, but the potential had been replaced by a bit of age. He played well for the Sharks, not as well as before, but was still a game turner. His contract came up and what did he do?
He chased the money.
Now a veteran halfback, Kimmorley was still earning a nice amount. A great career behind him, even into his twilight seasons, he is getting the job done.
So why is it that, a player who has pretty much done it all, will never walk into a single one of the clubs he played for an get treated with the same reverence that some of the games great players get treated with?
Brett Kimmorley has built a great career for himself, but he has done it at some many clubs that the body of his work is not appreciated as it would be if he had played for just one or two teams.
As a Rugby League fan, as you get older, you realize the value of the one club player. It shows you stuck in there through the good and bad times alike. You were committed, and you played well enough that at no stage the club decided to tap you on the shoulder and show you the door.
This is a concept that for most players early on in their careers, its not big deal. Once they get to 25-26, and if they have been lucky to be at the one club, you hear every single one of them talking about the value to them of remaining a one club player until they retire.
So why am I bringing this up?
In recent years, we have seen some very talented players leave their clubs, and very good situations, in the pursuit of money. I have always said, players should get as much as they can out of the game, and I think its great that these players have been able to set themselves up in doing so.
It does make you wonder what these guys will think in 20 years time when many of their peers are revered by the general public, and they are looked upon as good player who were only around for a few seasons.
There are hundreds of blokes who can claim “I was a very good NRL player once” and very few people actually remember. The guys that had a few good years and then just disappeared. So what is the difference between these players and players that leave the sport to play another sport?
Money is great, but it can’t buy you happiness. It can’t buy you respect. It can’t buy you the feeling you get when you in your 60’s and a grandparent walks up with their grand kids, wanting to introduce them to a great player they use to watch as a young person themselves.
Mark Gasnier knew what he valued.
A St George-Illawarra junior, he came into first grade with a club where his Uncle has made a legend of himself. Just happy to be there, he was petrified running out for his first game.
He went on to be a great player, for his club, his state and his country. He was well paid too, but he wanted more.
When a third party sponsor didn’t pay him, Gasnier went to France chasing the money. He was very well paid once again, playing for a big rugby union club in Paris. Earning big money, playing in a good team, life was great.
Except it wasn’t.
Gasnier got to the end of his contract and told his manager “I don’t care what it takes, just get me back to the Dragons”. He was offered a contract to come back and play for any Super 14 team in Australia he wanted. On much bigger money than he could have got in the NRL.
Gasnier could have got many times more to play for the Newcastle Knights, but its all but certain he will go back to the Dragons and play for the NRL’s minimum wage.
Gasnier went to the other side, and yeah, the money was good, but the grass wasn’t actually greener.
For a kid to grow up playing Rugby League, their dream is the play in the NRL. Many don’t make it, a select few are good enough. So when these players get to that level, to walk away from their dreams for money, it doesn’t always work out how they wanted.
Imagine being an old man one day, sitting down with your kids and saying “I was really good at something, people loved me, they loved what I did and I was well paid for doing it. However, I turned my back on all of that to earn a bit of extra money”.
For a young athlete at the top of his sport, to commit the best years of his very short sporting career to something he doesn’t really want to do, it has got to be a move that in later life is filled with many regrets.
One day Israel Folau will be able to tell his kids that he hit the hights in Rugby League, but then stopped playing and was a figure head for an AFL club. He might have been one of the great try scorers in Rugby League history. He could have easily played 300 games, he could have been one of the few players to play 30 State Of Origin games, he could have played for well over a decade at the very top of the sport.
He chose not to for money.
Sonny Bill Williams is the same. A young player that was on great money, he left for even more money, poorly advised. He could have been the captain of his club and country one day. he could have played at least 250 games, he could have been a superstar of the sport.
He chose not because he wanted more money.
When we saw great players like Wendel Sailor, Lote Tuqiri and the like heading off for money, we all looked at them and thought “What a waste”.
Wasting the best years of their career, the peak of their careers. Leaving behind a body of work, just for the money. Sure many of them came back, but will it ever be the same? Will will anyone ever call them a legend in the sport they grew up dreaming of being a legend in?
Money can buy you a lot of things, and if I knew Israel Folau I would have told him to sign with the AFL. He would be a complete idiot not too. However I also wonder, when father time has his way and Israel is an old bloke with a nice house and a family of his own, will he watch NRL games and dream of the days when he was doing what he loved.
How much would that experience be worth to him then?