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Deal breakers: are transfer fees the answer?

Deal breakers: are transfer fees the answer?
Ben Barba is one of three players whose futures at their clubs remain up in the air despite their being contracted for at least season 2014. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos

We’ve been hearing a lot of discussion about NRL contracts recently given the spate of players requesting releases on compassionate grounds and issues surrounding the salary cap given the impending rise on the back of the television rights deal.

In particular we’ve seen a number of players looking to be granted early releases from their current deals, with Canberra duo Anthony Milford and Blake Ferguson reportedly looking elsewhere and Canterbury’s Ben Barba confirmed as having requested a release.

In my opinion this is a huge issue for the NRL.

I appreciate that there are going to be difficult situations arising for some players and there will be cases where family is involved, so the issue of compassion can be a valid one. But in the case of someone like Milford, you have to acknowledge what Canberra have done for him so far in his career in grooming him as a young player and the money they’ve spent in bringing him through the grades.

Now he is on the verge of a great first grade career and he wants to leave the club.

These cases need to be judged on their merits and often there will be no easy answer – but there is a need for players to understand that once you sign a contract you have an obligation to see that contract out. The last thing you want is the complete dilution of the NRL contract. I appreciate that Milford does have genuine reasons for seeking a release but we need to be careful of setting a precedent here whereby other players start thinking that even though they have signed a contract, if they come up with a good enough excuse they can get out of it.

Perhaps we should start by examining the potential for compensation to be paid by whichever club picks up these players to the club that loses them. It could be structured as a transfer fee – that’s got to be a viable option for the pure fact that clubs invest so much time, money and resources into preparing players. Anthony Milford is a prime example given they have invested so much in him.

Surely there must be some sort of compensation paid to the club for him to be released out of that contract.

Likewise, you’ve got to feel for the Bulldogs in what they’ve done for Ben Barba in bringing him through and developing him. To think he could be lost... where do they end up in all of this? Do we need to form an NRL committee that gives the okay to dissolve a contract or insists the player must see the contract out? There is no easy answer but in my opinion there are some danger signs here that need to be addressed.

While on the subject of NRL contracts, the salary cap remains an ongoing topic of discussion, with the new TV rights deal seeing the cap rise. Right now the NRL is looking at the current system and whether or not changes need to be made – but in my opinion one of the most pressing issues remains greater exemptions for long-serving players.

I understand that there are now certain exemptions but I’d like to see guys like myself that were one-club players for their particular clubs for such a long time given a better opportunity to stay with the club they’ve spent their entire careers with. Nobody wants to see long-serving players forced to leave.

Similarly, I think we need to relax the inflexibility we have shown in the past if it means we can keep our marquee players in the game. We can’t afford to let the Israel Folaus and Sonny Bill Williams’ be lost to the game. Let’s hope common sense prevails and we see some good decisions made by all the relevant parties over the coming months.

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