Rugby league fans love to reminisce about the good old days, when players would honour handshakes, play for cases of beer and the love of the game and hold down jobs on the side.
The game’s overwhelming narrative is commanded by one important factor – loyalty.
But this season, there seems like there’s no escape (pardon the pun) from the get-out clause.
Suddenly, the bloke you thought would stick around for the long haul, or would definitely join your club next season, has already plotted how to back-door it.
This naturally causes a lot of angst. People cry foul about the apparent ease at which players and coaches can turn their backs. That ‘professionalism’ is ruining the fundamental basis of a team sport. And the biggest fear of all – that rugby league is turning its back on its blue collar roots.
We all love to live in the glory days. But as player agent Steve Gillis, who has been representing rugby league players since 1994, explains, the ‘get-out clause’ phenomenon isn’t a phenomenon at all.
“They’re common. It’s not in every contract but it’s not something that’s shock-horror, popped out of the ground and no-one’s ever heard of it before,” says Gillis.
“There will be instances where a club will give assurances to a player they’re trying to recruit, that such-and-such will happen. The player and his agent may say that sounds terrific, but if it doesn’t happen I want an opportunity to break that agreement.
“For example, there were many instances with Craig Bellamy at Melbourne where players only wanted to stay if he was staying, and he was negotiating a contract at the particular time. The high profile players will say, ‘We love it here and we’re staying, as long as the coach is with us.’ The club will say, ‘Yes, the coach will be here long term,’ and you’ll say, ‘That’s terrific. Back it up with a clause.’”
This year, get-out clauses have already allowed for a significant domino effect. David Furner’s sacking at Canberra activated Blake Ferguson’s clause (though he did end up having his contract terminated); Ricky Stuart’s clause regarding the Parramatta board stability allowed him to move from Parramatta to Canberra one year into his deal; three Parramatta signings have clauses to get them out of their contracts now Stuart isn’t there; and the never-ending saga of Anthony Milford’s family-related get-out clause continues to drag on.
From a CEO’s perspective, the get-out clause really depends on how you manage your team. Now-Sharks CEO Steve Noyce, who has previously ruled over Wests Tigers and the Roosters, says there is always a choice for the club.
“Some clubs in different situations do those things but I think you’ve got to think the club is bigger than any individual,” Noyce says. “I don’t think it’s happening everywhere. If you think about where you work, no-one asks you if you’ll stay or go depending on who takes over. I don’t think in 20 years I’ve ever put a clause in saying if a coach changes you get an opportunity to move on.
“For me it’s still the ‘KISS’ philosophy of keep it simple – I think you can complicate it all, but at the end of the day the club needs to stand for what they are and what they’re about.”