The NRL should introduce a trade rule to stop drawn out contract sagas such as the feud between the Newcastle Knights and Canberra Raiders-bound Joseph Tapine.
Too often when a player leaves a club in circumstances like Tapine, who signed a contract for 2017 with Canberra before the 2016 season had even started, leaves a club, there is practically zero compensation to clubs.
This is despite the fact these clubs often invest plenty of time, effort and money into developing these young players.
If NRL teams had the ability to trade players to different clubs, it would help to alleviate the so-called “poaching” of players by rival teams.
The Canberra Raiders could be seen as the bad guys after enticing Tapine to sign his recent deal, and effectively stealing a contracted player from the Knights, who released Tapine this week.
However, as any Canberra fan will tell you, they have been on the wrong end of the stick in this regard many times and received no compensation for losing players they invested massive amounts of time and money in.
Josh Dugan is the classic example. He was released by the Raiders in 2013 after a number of off-field incidents. He was Canberra born, and had been in the junior system for years, and was given every chance to succeed with the Raiders.
However, as we all know, he couldn’t keep things together off the field and was sacked and eventually picked up St George, where his on-field career has blossomed and he reportedly has matured greatly.
Canberra’s loss was St George’s gain. They received one of the more promising fullbacks in the game (potentially at a discounted rate too given they were the only team interested in Dugan), and all Canberra received was a headache as to whom to put at the back.
Years of work by the Raiders went down the tube, because their star prospect couldn’t keep himself out of trouble, but the Raiders had no choice but to release him.
A trade would have been the perfect remedy for that situation. The Raiders could have traded Dugan to another team, and rather than simply get some mid-season salary cap relief, they could have received a talented prospect, or an established player to fill another void on the team.
Similarly, Newcastle could have elected to trade Tapine to the Raiders for 2016, and in return receive a player (or more than one player) from the Raiders.
Newcastle was woeful last season, and new coach Nathan Brown might be interested in adding an established front rower, or a veteran back to bolster a very young three-quarter line.
The Wests Tigers are another club, which, if you believe coach Jason Taylor, are in a lot of salary cap trouble. Taylor received plenty of derision from league fans for trying to move club stalwart Robbie Farah on at the end of last season, but, again if you believe Taylor, the club is in serious salary cap strife.
There is surely a club who could offload a couple of young players in exchange for one of the better hookers in the game, to potentially push for a premiership.
The Parramatta Eels are also in salary cap strife. While the Eels’ situation is different to the Tigers, a potential solution again is to trade away some established (and perhaps under-performing) players and their contracts, in exchange for some new and exciting prospects, who might need a year in the NSW Cup, before they are ready for first grade.
One problematic detail for the NRL to sort out would be whether a player’s contract comes with a traded player. In American sports such as the NFL, a trade is often a suitable solution to a problem because a player’s contract goes with a player to a new team.
It means poorly behaving players can be traded away, or players who get homesick, like Ben Hannant when he moved from Queensland to the Bulldogs, before leaving two years into his contract.
Clubs are often reluctant to cut players in both the NRL and NFL, because simply cutting them may mean they have to pay out guaranteed money within a contract, which still counts toward the salary cap, and possibly in coming seasons. Jarryd Hayne was reportedly still being paid by the Eels in the 2015 NRL season, despite him playing in the NFL, for example.
A trade rule would potentially fix a number of issues within the NRL surrounding contract dramas, which are an ugly look for the game.