Main content

In Touch: Will draft stop meat market frenzy?

Leila McKinnon NRL.com Tue, Apr 19, 2011 - 9:15 AM

Darius Boyd is one of 121 players off contract at the end of the season. Copyright: Action Photographics

I'm as unhappy as 13 Raiders on a flight from Townsville to Canberra, after five straight losses. And not just because the Roosters are only one win ahead of the poor old Green Machine, although my 86-year-old neighbour Hazel passionately tells me that she is “just disgusted” with the under-performing Chooks. Of course having one player accused of assaulting his ex-girlfriend and another suspected of heading into a downward spiral of addiction isn’t great news either. 

The thing that’s got me down is all the horse-trading that’s going on in preparation for 2012. Guys! It’s Round SEVEN, we’ve only just begun 2011. 

It all started with the hoop-la leading up to Newcastle’s signing of chatty supercoach Wayne Bennett. Not a problem; it all worked itself out; no one was harmed in the negotiation of that contract … the Rabbitohs are used to disappointment. 

Then super-sized Bulldog Jamal Idris committed to five years at the Titans, and Michael Searle appeared to be just getting started on a shopping spree after being spotted with Rooster Nate Myles and sacked Bulldog Ryan Tandy. 

The Michael Maguire signing passed me by. I don’t care who coaches the Bunnies as long as it’s not Wayne Bennett.

The real blow came in Sunday’s Herald Sun, which reported 171 players worth more than $21 million are off contract at the end of the season, unleashing a “meat market” which is “expected to be a frenzy of activity in coming months”.

Oh joy, how fun, so much to look forward to as we follow the negotiations of Darius Boyd, Matt Bowen, Justin Hodges, Trent Waterhouse, Adam Blair, Willie Tonga, Kade Snowden, Luke Douglas, Luke Bailey, Timana Tahu, John Sutton and Chris Sandow, just to name a few.

Player agents, team owners, board members, coaches and players, all involved in $21 million-plus of back and forth; it’s as quiet, relaxing and soothing as a shopping trip to Istanbul’s sprawling Grand Bazaar for a spot of haggling. They say it’s not a distraction from what happens on the field, but how can it not be?

Do the Dragons feel the same way about Wayne Bennett as they did last season? In a rare interview on Sydney’s 93.5FM, Bennett appeared to admit how de-stabilising the situation is: "I'm at St George Illawarra and it's important to me that I do the best job I can there with them until the end of this football season, and my continual reference to it does nothing to help us as a footy club, and it certainly doesn't do anything to help Newcastle where I'm going."

What’s the solution? Could it be the creation of a designated time period for trading? A draft?

Ricky Stuart wrote in The Sunday Telegraph in May last year that it was time for an NRL draft, not because of the in-season haggling but to level the playing field for teams at the top and bottom of the ladder. Stuart argued that a cap and no draft forces top clubs to drop talent that’s got them there, and bottom-placed clubs are forced to pay extra for players to attract them to a losing team, so they get fewer quality players before reaching the cap.

He makes a good point, and it would have the soothing side effect of allowing us to enjoy out footy without the sideshow of shifting loyalties and suspicion. 

We’re all supposed to be singing “This is Our House” along with Jon Bon Jovi, not “This is My House but I Don’t Know How Long I’ll Be There”, or “Who’s Leaving” and “Who’s Coming In”.