ST George Illawarra star Mark Gasnier has dropped the bombshell today the NRL world feared. He is off to play rugby in France – letting the NRL world in on why he was forced from the game, ultimately because his playing contract was not fully honoured.
Gasnier held a press conference on Tuesday morning with Dragons chief executive Peter Doust, with both men expressing dismay over sponsorship shortfalls totalling $1 million in the centre’s contract.
Gasnier confirmed he would leave the Dragons at the end of the season to join Stade Francais on a two-year deal, ending months of speculation on his future.
While stressing his move was not motivated by money, Gasnier revealed an exit clause in his contract was only activated because he was owed third-party sponsorship money promised to him when he signed a five-year deal in 2006.
Doust would not identify the third parties responsible but said: “It’s fair to say those commitments have not been fulfilled.”
Gasnier said he would not have looked at an offer from rugby union had his contract been honoured, but he had no choice but to leave because he felt like he was only earning “two-thirds” of his wages.
“The hardest things was to walk away from the club, I love the club,” said Gasnier, who will earn an expected $1 million a year in rugby union.
“I grew up here, there’s a lot of family history. But it’s the circumstances that led me here.
“It’s unfortunate how things come about but I’ve had to react to it and I think this is the best reaction for me.”
Gasnier, who will link up with former New South Wales coach Ewan McKenzie in France, will stay on as Dragons captain for the rest of the season.
He will join Penrith premiership-winners Craig Gower and Luke Rooney in playing French rugby next season.
Doust hinted the NRL had been responsible for overseeing the sponsorship arrangements but NRL boss David Gallop strongly denied there had been any commitment to pay Gasnier.
â€œIt’s disappointing that Mark Gasnier is leaving the NRL but … let’s be really clear about one thing,â€ Gallop said.
â€œThere was no commitment by the NRL to pay Mark Gasnier via third party agreements.
â€œSome third party agreements came through for him and eventuated, some didn’t but if there was a firm agreement, there would be no reason to have an annual escape clause which was agreed between the player and the club.â€
Gallop also defended the league’s salary cap.
â€œThis is not necessarily a salary cap issue, $1million a year for a player is not something our clubs can afford, with or without a salary cap,â€ he said.