Up to 96 roster spots are set to remain unfilled after the November 1 deadline for clubs to begin formalising their 2020 squads as most wait for an off-season player merry-go-round that may not happen.
After the remarkable events of the past two summers – which have seen the likes of Mitchell Pearce, James Maloney, Matt Moylan, Shaun Johnson, David Klemmer and Josh McGuire released from their contracts – clubs, players and fans have become conditioned to upheaval in the transfer market at the end of each season.
However, the deadlock in the transfer market is more likely to result in player trades between clubs rather than a series of moves after a big-name star creates a domino effect by leaving his contract.
A meeting of club chairs two weeks ago backed the NRL’s push to introduce a series of transfer windows throughout the year, but the RLPA remains reluctant to change the current system.
With each of the 16 clubs needing to register the contracts of 24 members of their 30-man squads by November 1 there has been no rush to finalise rosters for next season as clubs review the talent in their ranks and identify players they want to move on.
“Clubs don’t want to fill their rosters now in case a superstar becomes available,” a leading player agent told NRL.com. “This is all a direct result of Newcastle picking up Klemmer and Pearce in January, and someone is going to get Ryan Matterson in December.”
Matterson has sought a release from Wests Tigers, who are understood to only be willing to let him go unless they get a player of similar value – such as Gold Coast’s AJ Brimson.
The likes of Darius Boyd, Josh Dugan, Jack Bird, Josh Reynolds, Ash Taylor, Brodie Croft, Matt Dufty, Andrew McCullough, Matt Prior and Danny Levi are also reported to be facing uncertain futures, despite being under contract.
In addition, more than 100 players remain unsigned for next season, including stars of the calibre of Jesse Ramien, Dylan Walker, Corey Oates, Kyle Turner, Luke Capewell, Brad Taikarangi, Jordan Rapana, Zane Tetevano, Chris Lawrence, Issac Luke, Te Maire Martin, Jordan Kahu, Lloyd Perrett, Josh Hoffman, Patrick Kaufusi, Jamie Buhrer and Michael Lichaa
Brisbane second-rower Alex Glenn is also off-contract but is widely believed to be headed to Penrith, whose hooker Wade Egan has been linked with the Warriors after a visit to Auckland last week, which included a tour of the club’s facilities.
The Panthers have been one of the few clubs that have been active in the player market, signing Manly hooker Api Koroisau, while farewelling 10 players at their recent presentation, including Parramatta-bound prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard and star five-eighth James Maloney, who will join Catalans.
St George Illawarra playmaker Gareth Widdop (Warrington), Parramatta forward Manu Ma’u (Hull FC), South Sydney prop George Burgess (Wigan), Newcastle’s Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Hull KR) and Wests Tigers winger Mahe Fonua (Hull FC) are also moving to the Super League next season.
However, Wigan halfback George Williams (Canberra) and Castleford centre Bryson Goodwin (Souths) are the only players heading in the opposite direction.
The Rabbitohs (nine players), Tigers (three), Knights (five), Cowboys (eight), Raiders (three) and Bulldogs (four) have announced the departure of players but the number of new signings across the NRL isn’t enough to fill a 17-man squad.
In total, eight of the NRL’s 16 clubs have so far been active in the player transfer market.
Canterbury have been the biggest movers, recruiting Joe Stimson (Storm), Sione Katoa (Panthers) and Dean Britt (Rabbitohs), while Cronulla pair Kyle Flanagan and Jayden Brailey are headed to the Roosters and Knights respectively.
Besides Goodwin, Souths have also signed Troy Dargan (Broncos), Steven Marsters (Dragons) and Edene Gebbie (Wynnum-Manly), while halfback Connor Tracey is returning to Cronulla and the Cowboys have picked up St George Illawarra hooker Reece Robson.
Clubs have until November 1 to register a minimum of 24 players and then must have 29 contracted players by March 1, with their 30-man squads to be finalised by June 30.
While a number of clubs are looking to move players on, many of those are on big money and rival clubs can’t afford to take them unless their contracts are heavily subsidised.
In contrast, Matterson is seeking more money than his current deal but the only way the Tigers are willing to release him is if they can get a like-for-like replacement.
“I think you are more likely to see swaps between clubs at some stage rather than an avalanche of players moving,” one recruitment manager said.
“You might both be in a hole. You need a forward and they need a back. You might not necessarily be after that particular player but at least it is a position you need.
“Clubs think they can just move players but where are they going to go? No one in England has got the money for the type of players being talked about so I don’t know who is going to move.”
Player agents believe the introduction of rolling deadlines for clubs to fill their squads has created a gridlock in the player transfer market.
“Clubs are only signing 24 players as they have to as part of the collective bargaining agreement,” the agent said.
“I don’t think the players are going to come on to the market like they have in the past few years but clubs are constantly asking if players are unhappy at their current clubs.”
Another agent said: “I don’t think there will be any major domino effects. The crazy restrictions that the rules have created diminish opportunity for players … and loaded clubs with paying towards more players that are playing at other clubs”.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.