A top agent talks about the highs, lows and fall-outs...

Craig Harrison is one of rugby league’s leading agents, with his clients including Wigan stars Zak Hardaker and Morgan Smithies. Here, he gives a candid interview about his role...
Agent Craig HarrisonAgent Craig Harrison
Agent Craig Harrison

When and how did you become an agent?

My background is in business and I was taking part in a Leeds Rhinos golf day. The player I went round with was an 18-year-old Danny McGuire.

We got on well and, by the 18th hole, he’d told me he was looking for an agent and asked if I’d think about it. I met his family and spoke to Danny about what he wanted to get out of his career, and it went from there.

Wigan star Zak HardakerWigan star Zak Hardaker
Wigan star Zak Hardaker

Can anyone become an agent?

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Yes. The RFL requires you to pass certain requirements, and you have to pass a test but in all honestly, it isn’t hard.

The only thing I’d say is I was fortunate in the sense I was financially independent already as I built up my list of players, but it took eight years to get a returnable wage, that’s the reality of it. I’m doing it full-time now but it’s taken 15 years to get to this stage.

Why did you name your company Show Me The Money?

Quite simply, I watched the film, Jerry Maguire, and I wanted to portray what he stood for – being close to his clients, and treating them like friends. I go to their weddings, kids’ Christenings, I’m Godfather to one of Luke Gale’s children... I don’t think I could do this job if I didn’t like the player. When I meet a player, even if he doesn’t come with me I’ll always say, ‘Please go and get an agent’. They need someone who knows the game, someone who knows your worth and the worth of others, and someone who will always have your back.

What is an average day for an agent?

In the mornings, when players are usually at training, I’ll tend to do my phone calls with administrators and get any paperwork done. There’s a lot of speaking to different people – I’ll often make 100 calls a day!

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I do a lot of video, whether that’s footage of my current players or talent identification – I’d like to think knowing players is one of my strengths. I remember once being at an RFL meeting and asking them, ‘Why do you not ask us about the rugby league side?’ And I was serious. I’ve got 20 internationals, I know what it takes to make it to the very top.

In the afternoons is when I usually speak to players or meet up with them and their families. There’s more to the job, for me anyway, than dealing with players’ contracts – you’re involved in their lives. Take Ben Jones-Bishop, for example, we started him with a property portfolio and he has got seven now.

Why do agents have a bad reputation?

Probably because there are some bad ones out there. Looking after a player’s interests is your No.1 goal but I do see both sides of it – I understand the wider issues and where the clubs are coming from, too. I’m passionate about the game. You’re also the one who gets the blame from the fans when a player leaves for another club. When Galey moved, Cas fans were up in arms about it, and because of his injuries many of the Leeds fans were unsure about it, and I was getting called every name under the sun. After two games, Leeds realised what they’d got, the fans love him, and the Cas fans are buzzing, too, because Danny Richardson is there and they’re top of the league... but at the time you get all the stick. You very rarely get thanked.

When it comes to contracts, how does it work?

If a contract enters the last year, I’ll speak to the player and their family about what they want. If they’re happy where they are, you’ll speak to the club, the coaches and the chairmen, and if you get a vibe they’re a bit cold on the player, you’ll look at your options.

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Every 10 days or so I hear from clubs about what they’re looking for, either in the short-term or for the following year. It makes it easier if they trust you, and then it’s a case of looking at who’d be a good fit where, and that’s a part of the job I enjoy.

How do you get paid?

In all-but rare cases I don’t charge anyone under 20, and then after that it’s five per cent; sometimes it’s paid by the individual players, other times by the clubs. One of the biggest problems is getting the money – if there’s one thing I’d change, that’d be it!

Has the coronavirus crisis impacted on you?

Absolutely. And I get it, I won’t be asking a club for money at this time, I realise I’d be bottom of the list. I realise we’re lucky to be involved in sport and there are a lot of people struggling, a lot of people working on the frontline, and if we have to sit in for a few weeks then it’s a small price to pay in the bigger picture.

What’s the relationship among the different agents?

I don’t know if my character unnerves a couple of people – because I like being open and honest – but I’ve been to meetings and there’s not much conversations there. Plus, you also get it where you can be sitting next to an agent who tried to tap up one of your players a few days earlier! I’ve never actively taken a player from another agent, but there are two or three who are horrendous for it and I’ve had it done to me.

What’s the worst part of the job?

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Players leaving you, especially when you’ve invested so much time and work into them. Once, I’d taken a player – who I’d looked after for three years – and his mate to Nando’s, got on great, and when I got back to my car I had a text message from him saying he was leaving to go with another agent. I replied and said, ‘You could have said that before I spent £100 in Nando’s...’ - I’ll not say what else I wrote!

If that’s the worst part of the job, what’s the best?

Changing their lives. I was at the Grand Final between Cas’ and Leeds and I had 13 players on the pitch. I watched dreams get made and smashed, and all of them had had different journeys. I don’t watch games, I watch individuals; I saw Greg Minikin make a break and I thought back to seeing him at York, telling Casper (Tony Smith) to sign him and telling him he would be perfect for you. That’s the really satisfying part, seeing players develop. Cameron Smith was the best I’ve seen at 16, along with Ben Currie, and now he’s emerging into the top player I knew he could be. Morgan Smithies is the same. He’s the real deal. There aren’t many who would play the game for nothing, but he’s one of them. And he’d still have the same grubby mentality!

Do you deal with NRL clubs?

Occasionally. If a player wants to pursue that, I will and always will do what’s best for a player. But I love our game and if we carry on giving our best players away, we’ll be seen as a feeder competition. The NRL is what a lot of the younger players talk about, but maybe the pandemic we’re all going through now may change things; one of the kickbacks from it may be that they see the stability in Super League.

Has there been a change in players since you started?

It’s not just players, it’s society. The younger ones don’t talk as much, they’re more comfortable messaging. If you want to get their attention, you need to send a message offering free boots, Nando’s or Costa!

How involved are you when a player gets into trouble?

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I usually get the second call. I’m dealing with the fall-out, liaising with the club, being there for the player, advising them, guiding them.

Do coaches or chairmen ever fall out with you?

Yes, there are some I’m closer with than others. The coach I’m closest to is probably Daryl Powell, and he will throw the book at me probably three times a year!

I had to call him and tell him about Galey (going to Leeds) and it wasn’t nice. He said when he wanted to say and I explained why it was such a good opportunity for him, and he got it, he understood. I never lied to him.

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