National Rugby League players want to have their cake and eat it too.
Play well and you get a big, long term contract. You get financial security and the backing of a Rugby League club that spends it own money marketing you and raising your profile. If you feel like moving though, fuck em! Ditch them! Walk out on the club without a second thought.
This is happening more and more in the NRL and up until now the NRL itself has been happy to sit back and let it happen. I think the NRL’s attitude probably stems back to the whole Sonny Bill Williams saga.
When Sonny Bill Williams jumped on a plane for France and walked out on his contract, there wasn’t much the NRL could really do. Williams ended up paying the Bulldogs a sum of money for their trouble but that was well down the track and didn’t help them in terms of attracting a replacement to the club.
The situation is a little different when a player wants to move from one NRL club to another. A move like that keeps a player in the NRL system and opens the possibility that the NRL can put some type of system in place that allows a reasonable amount of compensation to a club that loses a player, and hopefully some sort of disincentive to a player to break their contract and leave a club that has invested in them.
Right now the Bulldogs Ben Barba and the Raiders Anthony Milford are the two highest profile players who want to walk out on contracts and play for another clubs. Both players are using their family as the reason they want to leave and play elsewhere.
If a player wants to leave a club, that is fine, but there should be some measure of compensation that a club receives for losing that player. There should also be some sort of penalty that a club that signs that player should have to carry.
Don’t think for a second that clubs across the NRL aren’t trying to get players to break their contracts by offering them a bigger deal. These offers might not be written down on paper, they might not be “official”, but managers are telling players about what they could make elsewhere if they are willing to leave their current clubs.
Players managers and clubs are always talking. Players managers don’t just look after one or two players, many of them have dozens of players they represent in some capacity. As clubs talk to player managers about one player, it is only natural they will talk about others players that a player manager represents. It is not a black and white process. There is nothing stopping a club offering a deal to a contracted player, or a contracted player asking their manager to go out and field offers for them.
That process can not be regulated, but the outcome can. Whether teams cop and extra salary cap hit for taking these players on, or are forced to open their books to the club whose player they are taking and offering a player swap, something needs to be done.
When you sign an NRL contract, you are a professional Rugby League player. It is not a charity. It is not community service. You get paid a lot of money to play for a club and you are not forced into it. You have to go in and physically sign a contract, you make a decision. You make a commitment.
If a player decided they want to break that commitment, clubs should not be left penalized. Something needs to be done to stop players and clubs from devaluing NRL contracts.