Kings and Cheeky Watson have 'thrown us to the dogs,' say SP Marais
The South African Rugby Union (SARU) has stepped in with a financial injection that has allowed the Kings to field a Super Rugby team in 2016, but there remains a large group of players who are still waiting for payment from the broke Eastern Province Rugby Union (EPRU).
One of those is former Sharks fullback, SP Marais.
Just 26-years-old, Marais is currently unemployed and unsure what the future holds - seemingly bizarre for a man who has 27 Super Rugby caps for the Sharks.
Marais is now back in Durban where he has been recovering from a torn meniscus, and he has the Sharks to thank for his rehabilitation as the union allowed him to use their medical facilities outside of their own training times.
The details of Marais’ experience with the Kings are nothing short of shocking, as he revealed to Sport24 in an exclusive interview.
Marais signed a contract to join the Kings from November 1, 2015 in June last year. He was identified as one of the Kings’ major signings ahead of their return to Super Rugby.
But the financial troubles that followed have made the last few months a nightmare. To this day, Marais still has not received a cent from the Kings - and he doesn’t think he ever will.
He described the Kings' Super Rugby pre-season preparations as “amateur”, and illustrated how he and the other players were forced to train by themselves by going to the Virgin Active gym on their own accord as there was no training taking place.
That would remain the case until SARU stepped in and offered a group of players contracts to play Super Rugby. Marais, though, was not one of those players and he was “thrown to the dogs”.
By mid-December, Marais had gotten himself out of his contract with the Kings and EPRU, and while he is still owed money he is not holding his breath. It has forced him to reconsider everything.
“This is by far the lowest and darkest point of my career. I’ve even considered hanging up my boots,” Marais said.
“I didn’t feel that it was worth it anymore. It’s probably been the toughest mental test that I’ve ever had to go through.
“At the end of the day you feel like giving up because your career is in the hands of someone else.
“I had nowhere to go, nowhere to be. I was on the verge of literally hanging up my boots. I honestly considered it ... I even spoke to my parents about it, because what’s left? What can you do?”
Marais had wanted to get out of his contract before it officially began once the financial troubles plaguing the union were made public.
“There were a lot of empty promises made to me. I believed the promises and then ended up getting into the situation that I am in now,” he said.
“I wanted to get out of my contract, but they assured me a couple of times that the money would be there from November. Then on November 1 they said that in the next two weeks everything would be sorted out. Then from there on it just snowballed into coaches and managers leaving.”
The revelations of the Kings’ pre-season were startling.
“It’s been the weirdest off-season I’ve ever been in. I went from doing normal training with squads in off-seasons to having to go do my own thing at Virgin Active,” said Marais.
“When I got to the Kings we literally only met once as a group. That was the only time I met some of the guys from the group ... it was amateur.
“The Kings in no way or form ever contacted anybody or tried to help anybody at any time.”
Marais says he was never contacted by anybody at the Kings or at SARU when it was decided that he would not be given a SARU contract.
“There were only a few guys that contracts from SARU for the Southern Kings and I wasn’t part of that group. It would have meant that I had to hang around there (PE) forever doing nothing,” he said.
“I haven’t been given any reason. I didn’t even receive a phone call saying that I’m not getting a contract. They only phoned the guys that they were giving a contract to, so I was completely left in the dark.
“There are about 18 guys still floating around PE looking for jobs ... looking for income. We’ve been thrown into the deep end and now we have to swim. There is no life-line for us, nobody helping us. We’ve all been left to fight for ourselves.”
Marais says he is owed salaries for November, December and January plus an additional five months as part of his settlement agreement with the EPRU.
But whether or not that money ever comes is another matter entirely.
“They were supposed to pay us our outstanding salaries and damages by January 31 and when January 31 came nothing happened, as per usual,” said Marais.
“Realistically I don’t think we’ll get a cent. I hope we do, but I don’t think there is much hope. We’ve been made so many empty promises that you can’t believe a word that comes out of their mouths. Hopefully something comes out of the liquidation hearing on March 10 and then we’ll have some kind of resolution.”
The hearing on March 10 will see the unpaid players and the SA Rugby Players’ Association (SARPA) move to have the EPRU liquidated. The EPRU are expected to oppose the movement.
Marais also had some choice words for EPRU president Cheeky Watson.
“I don’t think Cheeky realises what he’s done to players like us, and that’s just me saying it from my side,” said Marais.
“There are brilliant players like Tim Whitehead who also have nowhere to play. Our careers have been put on hold thanks to him and there’s no consideration for what he’s done to us.
“He’s basically just a selfish person just worrying about himself.
“We’ve been thrown to the dogs.”
Marais believes that the Kings could have avoided the trouble they are in if they had planned properly for their return to Super Rugby.
The decision was taken in 2013 for the Kings to give up the Super Rugby promotion/relegation if they were allowed entry into the Currie Cup.
“The biggest problem, I think, is mismanagement. The Kings have known for two years that they’re going to play Super Rugby. Why didn’t they start getting a sponsor two years ago? Why did they leave it until the end to find a sponsor?
“The Currie Cup was supposed to be used as a building block, but they never utilised it as a building block. They never in that whole process tried to get sponsorship; they left it until the last minute. The sponsors aren’t stupid ... there’s a reason why nobody wants to sponsor the Kings.”
Perhaps the most shocking revelation is that, according to Marais, he has never received a cent since joining the Kings.
“I haven’t received a single cent at all in any way or form from the Kings,” said Marais.
“No phone-call or anything. It cost me almost R20 000 to move everything from here (Durban) back to PE, and then I’m paying rent and stuff like that and there was no help at all.”
Marais says he may have “something in the pipeline” moving forward, but nothing is concrete at this stage.
“There’s obviously a lot of regret but I have to take it like a man. It was my decision to believe it ... that’s just the way I am,” he said.
“I’m responsible for my own actions as well so I have to take it on the chin and just move on.
“But I don’t think they realise the damage they did to players. Some of the guys have wives and kids to look after ... what about them? This is our jobs, this is what we do ... and then all of a sudden that gets taken away and nobody helps you.”