With the announcement yesterday that Wade McKinnon has left the New Zealand Warriors some may be wondering if this is really such a great loss to the club.
Despite claims from management that they had wanted McKinnon to stay at the club until his contract expired at the end of 2011, this simply does not stack up when one considers the speed at which he was released.
It is true that if a player is unhappy at a club, then he is not likely to be as productive with his form, but in this case the reason he was not in the team in the first place was a lack of form. It was no one’s fault but his own.
And if he was indeed that consequential to the Warriors fortunes then surely club CEO Wayne Scurrah wouldn’t have let him go at all. The reality is that McKinnon could no longer hold down a position on the reserves bench let alone a starting position. With Lance Hohaia firmly ensconced in the number one’s shirt the landscape for McKinnon no longer looked particularly desirable.
What’s more for him, not only has Hohaia seemingly gained an over him for the fullback’s position, the Warriors have Kevin Locke waiting in the wings. Fullback is Locke’s normal position and no doubt with a couple more years of experience of nrl football he is the heir apparent to Hohaia for the fullback position.
So, not a great outlook for McKinnon at Mt Smart. And when an opportunity comes a knocking you could hardly blame him for jumping at a chance to move on when the end result is a more realistic hope of a starting spot for the West Tigers.
Clearly McKinnon could see the writing on the wall. And the reality is that he is no longer the match winner that he was in 2007 when he set the competition alight with some scintillating length of the field tries. None more so memorable than his effort against Penrith that year where he zigzagged his way through the entire Penrith team. That his rich vein of form glowed week after week that year contributed mightily to the Warriors charge towards finals football. It did, sometimes, come with a few nasty side effects such as his willingness to enter into unnecessarily vigorous debate with match officials. Not to mention the occasion when he spat in the direction of a touch judge. Not one of the wisest career moves, it has to be said.
With his brilliance each week the Warriors coaching staff tended to overlook some of these misdemeanours as McKinnon was crucial to the team’s chances. But he is no longer that player, mainly due to a serious knee injury suffered in trial matches in early 2008. While he did make it back in time for finals football that year, he appeared to have lost the blinding speed and agility that he possessed before his knee reconstruction. Quite understandable, too.
It was one thing no longer having that speed at the end of 2008 and early on in 2009, but two years on from that fateful day where he injured the knee against the Newcastle Knights, he still appears to have been unable to locate his former speed and elusiveness.
If his grip on his place in the team was tenuous in 2009 then he soon lost it altogether this season. Not surprising either, as Coach Ivan Cleary quite rightly decided that with Hohaia at fullback, it gave him more options with his interchange bench. The fact that Hohaia can cover every position in the backline as well as dummy half makes him a vastly more valuable commodity to the Warriors than what McKinnon does.
Then there is the money side of the equation. Hohaia is on 150k pa, McKinnon 200k. Why would a club want to continue to pay a player not making first grade his playground 200k when it is getting far superior value for money from Hohaia, who is on 50k less annually? Surely, you wouldn’t. And this leads to the topic of recruitment and, also, player retention. Currently the Warriors are battling for the services of centre Brent Tate for the 2011 season. Reportedly the prospects of the Warriors winning his signature are 50/50.
There may be some chance but, still, it doesn’t seem an overly optimistic view on the part of the club’s management. However, with an extra 200k pa to negotiate with now that McKinnon has departed the scene, it must help with their chances of retaining Tate. Or, if Tate-who is on a salary of 400k per year- also leaves, then they would then have 600k pa in reserve (and under the salary cap) to put in an offer to Greg Inglis to lure him across the Tasman.
Inglis is the most likely of the Melbourne Storm’s superstar quartet to be released to help bring them back under the salary cap. And with a higher level of scrutiny being placed on the salary cap at the moment, how many clubs could realistically afford to splash out 600k on Inglis? I’m guessing not many.
With McKinnon opting out of his contract with the Warriors, the management of the club now have a golden opportunity to chase one of the true superstars of rugby league.
In the end McKinnon may have done the New Zealand Warriors a massive favour.