We’ve had a few high profile player signings of late so thought it worthwhile to explain the NRL's guidelines around player transfers.
The current ‘anti-tampering’ guidelines state that clubs are able to talk to players at any time, however the NRL will not register a player’s contract with a new club until after Round 13 in the final year of that player’s existing contract with his current club. The only exception to this is where the existing club agrees that the new contract should be registered. Unless that agreement is given, the NRL by not registering the contract ensures that the player’s existing club has a fair chance of retaining its player by putting forward another contract.
Prior to this system we had a strict anti-tampering deadline of June 30 which meant that no club could talk to a player under contract at another club until after June 30 in the final year of the player’s contract (unless his club gave prior approval).
While good in theory, the difficulty of the system is that it is virtually impossible to police and there were frequent news reports suggesting secret meetings between player representatives and clubs. It became impossible to differentiate between a general conversation about a player’s future and an actual negotiation. The speculation that grew around the June 30 date and about who was seen talking to who attracted more media speculation than the existing system. This was further fuelled by the significant number of players who suddenly signed with clubs immediately after July 1. All of this was seen as putting players and clubs under significant pressure.
In 2006 the game announced it was moving to a more transparent approach that would allow clubs and players to talk in the open and give fans and all parties an awareness of what was happening.
It is accepted that nobody likes to see players negotiating with a new team, but there is also the reality that players in the game do change clubs and that those discussions can take place over an extended period.
The gap between one year’s Grand Final and the next year’s pre-season training is now so small that it is impractical to wait until the end of a year to determine where a player will go the next season.
The added pressure is the need for clubs to finalise next year’s roster as early as possible. This is particularly so for teams looking to re-build.
This all leads to the professional reality that players will from time to time move clubs, and the NRL’s current approach is the most transparent system to accommodate that reality and to give existing clubs the opportunity to retain the stars they most value.
Any system that relies on restricting contract negotiations to a specific period will in time suffer from speculation that talks are taking place in the background between parties before the deadline itself.