Peter V’Landys and his team pulled off the impossible in 2020. Early in the year it looked like the season would be cancelled due to COVID-19 as the competition face a threat of financial ruin.
Amazingly, through great administration and personal sacrifices by the players and staff, not only did we get a great season, we got a finals series, State of Origin and all of our clubs survived the economic strains.
Other codes like the AFL, who for years been the dominant game in Australia, followed the NRL’s path back and were able to complete their competition, with rugby league taking on a form of superiority over its rival leagues.
Then comes the off-season. rugby league has the ascendancy of having the games showpiece State of Origin being played.
In the AFL, fans have their trade period and are glued to daily updates of trades and trade rumours.
The trade period keeps fans talking, builds interest in personal and online debate. Most importantly, it conducts player movement in a respectful and transparent manner.
The AFL completed their trade period last week. For AFL fans the excitement and anxiety went right up to the last second, playing out live on Fox Footy and all forms of social media.
The trades include deals for players or draft picks for the upcoming National Draft. The AFL has worked the player draft into their competition and it works almost perfectly.
A draft was tried in rugby league in the early 90’s but was swept aside by player unrest and a court decision to throw it out. In my opinion, thank goodness.
A draft system in the NRL goes against the fabric of the clubs’ development of juniors.
Although, NRL can learn from the AFL on how to conduct player movements that respect the fans and the clubs.
The NRL needs to formulate a transfer period. Perhaps one mid-season period and one at the end of each season.
Currently, clubs are able to approach players who have a year remaining on their contracts on November 1 each year. Players can sign with a new club and play out their existing contract with their club for that year before switching clubs.
In recent years, Angus Crichton (Souths to Roosters) and Jai Arrow (Titans to Souths), amongst others, have played out their final year with existing club while already being signed to their new club, a concept that has unsettled players and fans.
At times players don’t fit into a coach’s plan. Wests coach Michael Maguire inherited a roster that included Russell Packer, Ben Matulino and Josh Reynolds. Perhaps if a mid-season transfer system were implemented these players might have been able to move clubs either permanently or on a loan deal.
The introduction of player loans is a great initiative by the NRL. It enables players like Harry Grant to gain vital experience without Melbourne having to let him go permanently following years of development.
One big issue in the NRL is the continuing saga of players wanting to break contracts.
Most often it has to do with another club offering more money when a player’s existing club declines any request for a contract upgrade.
This is usually followed by a media frenzy as to why the player has requested to be let out of their current contract, with more times than not the player departing the club.
The constant in all requests to break a contract is the player manager. To their credit they are doing the best to ensure their clients are receiving the best remuneration possible, while many in the industry find player agents parasitic and disruptive.
Wests’ Josh Aloiai, arguably the Tigers’ most consistent forward in 2020, has requested to leave to take up a deal with the Sea Eagles, who are offering a higher remuneration for his services for the next 3 years despite being under contract with the Tigers for 2021.
Without knowing the Tigers salary cap situation, I can’t know if this is a play by his agent for an upgrade to his existing contract or not. Given the Tigers lack of recruitment for 2021, you’d expect they could accommodate him.
This could perhaps be another situation where a player agent has actively sought out rival teams for his client, who with a year remaining on his contract was legally able to search the market on November 1.
In this instance, the Sea Eagles, who are willing and able to pay him at a higher wage, do so in order to have Aloiai on their books for 2021.
Alternatively, clubs have the ability to off-load players under contract. Kyle Flanagan the most recent in a long list of players told to look for a new club despite being contracted.
After what many would say was a successful season for a young half, Flanagan found himself on the outer.
Two very different situations. Aloiai wants to break his contract with his club for his own benefit while Flanagan is being offloaded for the clubs benefit.
Either way, both situations look ugly. The only winners in this situation are the player managers. The biggest losers are the fans.
By following the AFL example of a trade period, all requests and negotiations are conducted behind the scenes and not in the media. Fans are never happy to lose a good player, but when it plays out in the media it infuriates them, particularly when a much loved player dumps on the club via a statement carefully worded by their management.
Put simply, the NRL transfer system (or lack of one) is a mess. Of all the good things the current management of the NRL has done, this is one issue they need to rectify.
A mid-season trade period would enable clubs to complete rosters to cover for season-ending injuries and allow for players not in their coaches plans to sign-on for a new club and continue their careers instead of playing in a reserve grade competition.
An end-of-season trade period gives clubs and players a means to conduct a more professional recruitment program that could be done behind closed doors and not be played out in the media.
Fans enjoy reading rumours of player movements, with the AFL a prime example.
What neither code likes is the leaked version by player management who use the media to put players against their clubs, nor do fans like to see clubs disposing of a loyal clubman or a young player like Kyle Flanagan and trying to justify it through the media.