There is something very special about players who play out their entire career at one club. It feel right. You see them come into first grade as a youngster, follow the highs and lows of their career. You see them reach their peak, playing brilliant football, and then they face the battles that come with diminishing physical ability.
I love the entire process. I love watching Darren Lockyer, once one of the best athletes in the game, having to adapt his playing style to remain effective in a sport that is just getting bigger, faster and stronger.
If you ask any player they will tell you, they want to be a one club player. Its a sign of longevity and worth. That you never got the tap on the shoulder from your coach. You were never told there was someone better, young or cheaper than you who was taking your place.
Very few players have that type of career.
Look at someone like Nathan Hindmarsh, who just last week became the most capped first grade player at the Parramatta Eels, taking over from Brett Kenny, another one club player.
Hindmarsh will play out his career with the blue and gold army, and as an opposition fan, I wouldn’t want it any other way!
It is time for the NRL to take a look at the salary cap, what it is meant to do in our competition, and what fans want from it.
A club that develops a player should not have to be the lowest bidder when that player comes off contract. A player shouldn’t be forced to chose between loyalty and money.
Surely in a game like Rugby League, you should be rewarded for loyalty. It should be something the game embraces, something it can hang its hat on.
Rugby League in Australia already has a fantastic grounding in that, you can grow up in an area, aspire to play for your local NRL team one day, and work your way through the grades and play for that team.
We don’t have a draft, and we don’t need one. You don’t want to be sending young players all over Australia to a club they have no connection with. You want young players to fulfill their dreams of playing for the team they grew up supporting.
Would anyone begrudge the Panthers being able to pay more then any other club for Michael Jennings, the Broncos being able to pay more than any other club for Sam Thaiday or the Sea Eagles being able to pay more than any other club for Keiron Foran?
The NRL right now is pushing the National Under 20’s competition. It see’s this competition as a great pathway into the NRL and a way to allow players to come from junior grades, learn what professionalism entails, and prepare them for the NRL.
If clubs knew they would prosper on the strength of their junior development, that a youngster they develop and grade would in five years time count very little towards the teams salary cap, surely all 16 clubs would go out tomorrow looking to build junior development pathways into their system.
If a club brings through a heap of junior players that are all brilliant, I wouldn’t be upset if they started to dominate the competition.
In 2003 when Penrith won their second NRL Grand Final, they did it on the back of an unprecedented influx of young stars who turned the club from wooden spooners into champions in the space of a few short years.
Luke Lewis, Trent Waterhouse, Luke Rooney, Joel Clinton, Rhys Wesser, Shane Rodney, Luke Swain….Penrith turned that list out over the course of about 18 months. They joined Craig Gower, Tony and Frank Puletua that formed the base of a home grown premiership winning side.
Shouldn’t that be the goal of all clubs?
There is not a single club in the NRL today that has a failed junior development system. Every single club, even the Roosters, have show the ability to sign up youngsters, bring them through the junior grades, debut them in first grade and be able to repeat that process time and time again.
What Rugby League fans want is to be able to cheer on more one club heros like Nathan Hindmarsh, but to do that the rules need to change.
Maybe what is needed is a two teired salary cap, whereby you have a cap on what you can spend on players you developed, and a second lower cap on players you have brought to the club after their first grade debut.
On top of that, if a player has played 8 years for one club, he should only count 50% towards that teams cap. Once he gets to 10 years, he shouldn’t count at all!
What would this do?
It would let us what a team like the current Canberra Raiders grow from a young side into a team of champions. They would no longer be on the back foot in regards to retaining players. They would know they can offer the players they developed more than any opposition team possibly could.
If the current Raiders side developed into a power house that no one could beat, if they could re-sign their own players at will, making them untouchable, of they went on to win five straight grand finals, other fans wouldn’t be upset! They would stand an applaud!
Rugby League fans love one club players. We like home grown heros, and we love watching a champion side stick together and do the best they can.
The game has a history of teams who won Premierships in bunches. Sure its interesting to have a new Premier every year, but its also exciting to see an old champions side facing a new challenge as a young team develops and looks to test themselves, to find out if its their time to shine.
The NRL has faced a tough week in regards to the salary cap, its ability to police the cap, and questions about how much it helps or harms the game.
We need a finite cap on spending to stop clubs killing themselves in the pursuit of glory, but surely within that structure we can reward loyalty and allow champions to be born, not bought.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com