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Wendell Sailor on breaking deal with Wayne Bennett to join Wallabies

Wendell Sailor has revealed the crucial meeting with Eddie Jones that convinced him to turn his back on a deal with Wayne Bennett and the Brisbane Broncos to switch to rugby union.

Speaking on James Graham’s The Bye Round podcast, the former dual international revealed that he had shaken hands with Gorden Tallis, Darren Lockyer and Shane Webcke in a hotel after the 2000 Rugby League World Cup final in England, promising the stay in rugby league.

“I like to think that I’m a man of my word and integrity, but we’d won the World Cup, and there was him, myself, Shane Webcke, Darren Lockyer. We were the only four Broncos in the side,” said Sailor.

“It was a big year for us, because we’d beaten the Roosters (in the 2000 grand final) and we’d beaten New Zealand (in the World Cup final).

“We were at the hotel and going out and Gordy grabbed me and said ‘we gotta stay together, Dell, we could win a couple of premierships together’ and I got pumped up too because we’d had a good World Cup and said ‘yeah, mate, you’re right!’

“I remember we called Wayne Bennett, whatever time it was (in Australia) and he took the call and said ‘We’ve got a four-year deal for you here, we think you’ve arrived as a world class winger’.

“Think about that: this was 2000, he signed me in 1993 on a $5000 contract so in seven years, no matter what I’d done in Origin and two premierships, Wayne said ‘you’ve arrived as a world class winger’.

Sailor was set for good coin at Lang Park, but even the cashed-up Broncos couldn’t compete with the money flowing through rugby union ahead of the 2003 World Cup.

“It was a four-year deal for $400,000 a year, so $1.6m for a winger, that was good money in 2000,” said Sailor. “I said I was going to stay and me, Gordy, Locky and Webby all shook hands and had a few more beers.

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“By the time the alcohol wore off and I got back, my manager said rugby union – Eddie Jones wants to meet you. It’s $800,000 a year, four-year deal, whether you play for the Wallabies or not.

“So I spoke to Wayne and he said ‘we can’t match that, but if you wanna go, go and you’ll always be a Bronco’.”

It was a case of all’s well that ends well for Wendell. He got his payday – though the Wallabies didn’t win the World Cup – and the Broncos continued apace, promoting two stars from within.

“At that time, I don’t think Wayne minded too much even though I’d given him my word because at the time they had two young guys called Lote Tuqiri and Justin Hodges coming through,” Sailor said.

“So sorry Gordy, Locky and Webby – but I think you guys done alright without me.”

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