2006 doesn’t seem that long ago, however it was very much a different time.
Chris Bailey is a true example of this, making his NRL debut with the nib Newcastle Knights on a contract worth just $20,000.
Bailey arrived at Newcastle after being cut from the Wests Tigers Jersey Flegg squad and was only living in Nelson Bay due to being promised a tiling apprenticeship.
He was signed to the Knights after showing impressive form in the local first grade competition for Nelson Bay.
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“It wasn’t full time money,” Bailey told the Our Town Our Team podcast.
“I think it was for about 20 grand so I just backed myself and said I’ll use most of that to train full time over the off season, just to give myself the best shot.
“Then there was match payments, but it was pretty lean that first year.”
The fact he was on such small money, in the context of professional sport, never seemed to bother a determined Bailey.
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“I’m sure a lot of blokes have done it before, back earlier than my days there were blokes on less than that playing first grade,” he said.
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“I think I played about half a dozen games that year, and those match payments sustained me I think, topped up the wage a bit which is good.”
Bailey made his first-grade debut in Round 10 that year (2006), ironically against the club who cut him as a junior, the Wests Tigers.
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Unfortunately for Bailey, he was made to believe his debut was coming a few weeks earlier, courtesy of a prank call.
“A couple of weeks before my debut one of my mates had this thing where you could text from your phone but write it was from someone else’s name,” Bailey said.
“So, my mate wound me up a couple of weeks before and wrote ‘this is Hages (Coach Michael Hagen), you’re going to be in this week’.
“They called me about half an hour later and said they were just mucking around.”
Thankfully for the now 37-year-old, his debut came soon after, and a new upgraded contract with it.
“Hages actually called and said I was going to play first grade this week, so I didn’t have to check again on that one. I knew his voice well enough.”