SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – OCTOBER 22: New Manly Coach Des Hasler signs his contract watched by Manly CEO Lyall Gorman (L) as Chairman Scott Penn looks on during a Manly Sea Eagles NRL press conference at Sydney Academy of Sport, Narrabeen on October 22, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)
November 1 marks the day when majority of teams start to return in some form of pre season. It also starts the crazy season when teams are permitted to speak to opposition players they would like to recruit for the 2020 competition.
Rugby league for it greatness on the field is one of the worst administrated games off the field. It has been since the 1980’s and is why the AFL is so far advanced and more entrenched into all of Australia.
To enable clubs the ability to sign a player from an opposition team so far out whilst that player is still contracted with another club is potentially destabilising and distasteful for the fans.
Last year we saw first hand where Angus Critchton had signed for the Roosters for 2019 and having to play out the season with the Rabbitohs. For Rabbitohs fans this was heartbreaking.
This off-season, clubs and fans have had to witness the most bizarre game of musical chairs involving half a dozen coaches. Fans of the clubs involved have had to endure lies and deceit from theirs and other club’s coaches and administrators involved.
We now have stories of players wanting to break contracts with existing clubs to take up better deals elsewhere or to follow their exiting coach or clubs wanting to offload players to ensure they will comply with the cap.
So as a game we have these negative headlines splashed across the back pages of our newspapers and headline news on sports broadcast. All the while the AFL sits back and must be overjoyed by the clumsiness of NRL administration.
The AFL has recently completed their trade week. Although it has taken some hits where the best players from their weakest teams left to join the best teams it was done under a controlled system which compensates the weaker teams particularly with draft picks.
The headlines generated leading up to and during the trade week are far more palatable to fans and stirs up interest among fans who discuss and debate the merits of potential trades.
During this year’s trade week a Geelong Cats player wished to be traded to a Western Australian club wanting to return home citing family reasons. He didn’t demand or threat, he requested. Unfortunately a deal was not struck.
As much as a disappointment it must have been for the player he didn’t spit the dummy and player and club resolved to attempt a trade next year. In the end the trade week in AFL was conducted in such professional levels it leaves NRL looking like an amateur equivalent.
How do AFL clubs and players keep conducting themselves in a manner which is respectful to all including most importantly the fans? I don’t really have the answer. However, if you look at the systems in place it might give some insight.
The administration and governance of the game and the sanctity of the rules applied including a draft system, trades and limited free agency all play there parts. Within this system, it seems to protect the club and player to honour contracts.
It was said Mick Cronin would just use a handshake as his contract. Today clubs sign a player knowing the signing will disrupt the balance of the salary cap in future years leading to that club needing to offload players to be cap compliant. Yet the contract is registered with the NRL.
Players know that if they want to walk away from their existing contract they will get their way. By doing so it disrupts the clubs’ existing and future cap planning depending on the value of the player. Agents play games with the clubs with their clients in front of the media with total disregard for fans.
On and on it goes, players moved on and players running away. It happens in pre season, during the season and into the next season. At the heart of it all are the fans. Sitting by watching how fickle it all is.
As a Tigers fan, I have ridden the highs and lows of the fickle game between clubs, players and coaches. Hearing some say that it is a business and there is no loyalty anymore. Sorry, you are wrong there is still loyalty in the game. The fans.
Fans invest their heart, passion and hard earned money into supporting their teams. Clubs, coaches, players and player agents need to start showing respect back to the people who effectively pay their wages.
To witness coaches being the most sought commodity of the off season must be the line in the sand. The game needs to stop the craziness. It needs to grow up and reach its potential.
NRL could learn from the AFL. As much as we celebrate the growth of rugby league with the Pacific Nations the game needs to concentrate on growing the game internally and that starts with better governance of clubs, players and player agents.
Maybe then we can look at ways NRL could become a true competitor of the AFL. To move into new markets and make the game truely national in Australia and New Zealand.
With an entrenched player contract and trade system firmly in place the AFL have respected their fan base who have returned that love. Fans see loyalty with their players. Perhaps that is why AFL fans live and breathe their football at fanatical levels.
The NRL as a game is great. I love the game and my Tigers. However. I see its potential and have seen it for decades. Yet the game moves at snail pace compared to the AFL. With at least two teams in every state except Tasmania making it is truly a national game.
For the NRL to grow beyond just Eastern Australia and Auckland, New Zealand it needs to start with loyalty and commitment to its fans. Do it and you build a fan base of fanatics.
Players and coaches should be able to earn as much as they can. They should be able to play at a club of their choice without question. They just need to conduct themselves in a better manner. To treat their fan base with the respect for their loyalty. Without fans you have no game or money.
All of us fans just ask for respect. To give loyalty and have loyalty returned. Surly between the independent commission, NRL management, clubs and players a suitable resolution can be made.
Most pundits say rugby league can’t have a draft system, trade week or a period set for negotiations to take place.
Why? I’ll leave that up to you the reader to give me direction. Perhaps together we can find the answer and pass it on to the NRL.