The RLPA has backed the 12-month player swap between Wests Tigers and Melbourne but genuine Super League-type loan deals are unlikely to become more common before the next collective bargaining agreement, despite keen interest from rival NRL clubs.
Under the terms of the arrangement between the Tigers and Storm, Paul Momirovski will move to Melbourne and rookie hooker Harry Grant will join the Concord-based club for the 2020 season before returning to their current clubs next year.
Player trades have very occasionally occurred on the Australian league scene - St George swapped a 21-year-old Andrew Walker for journeyman Roosters winger Jeff Orford in 1995, while Penrith and Cronulla effectively traded five-eighths Matt Moylan and James Maloney in 2018.
Other well-documented player swaps include Brad Abbey moving to Canterbury in exchange for Clay Priest two years ago, while Melbourne traded Smith Samau and Daniel Isaac to Gold Coast in 2007 to enable them keep winger Steve Turner after he signed with the Titans but changed his mind.
However, the Momirovski-Grant deal is unique in that it is also effectively a loan arrangement like those that operate in Super League.
The closest comparison to a loan deal in the NRL would be Jordan Kahu leaving the Broncos last season for North Queensland on the understanding that he could return to Brisbane in 2020 for the final year of his contract if the Cowboys didn’t want him.
Other clubs have allowed players to spend a year in the Super League to help relieve salary cap pressure before returning on new contracts but the Momirovski-Grant deal is a rare case of a pre-arranged two-way loan agreement between rival NRL clubs.
The Tigers need a hooker and are able to offer NRL experience to Grant as he bides his time until Cameron Smith eventually retires, while the Storm are light on for centres and can provide Momirovski the opportunity to develop under the coaching of Craig Bellamy.
The key to the swap is Momirovski signing a new deal with the Tigers for 2021 and 2022, while Grant returns to Melbourne next season to serve out the remaining two years of his contract.
The deal has the blessing of the RLPA, which was consulted before NRL salary cap auditor Richard Gardham signed off on the innovative agreement between the players and their clubs.
The RPLA is supportive of the arrangement after receiving assurances that neither Momirovski or Grant would be impacted by having to relocate, while the Storm and Tigers will take over the respective contracts of the players wearing their jersey this season.
NRL.com has been told other clubs are looking at similar arrangements but the current contracting model for the Telstra Premiership makes loan deals difficult to organise.
Besides all parties needing to agree, the Storm and Tigers were required to terminate the existing contracts of Grant and Momirovski before the pair signed 12-month deals with their new clubs identical to those they were previously on.
If the Momirovski-Grant deal generates more demand for similar arrangements, changes to the contracting system could be considered during the next round of CBA discussions between the RLPA and NRL for the 2023 season.
In Super League, a player can be loaned to another club on a month-by-month basis, with the portion of his contract for the period of the loan to be included in the salary cap of the club he is playing for at the time – regardless of who is paying his wages at that time.
Former Titans and Tigers utility Jordan Rankin played for Castleford in Sunday’s defeat of Toronto after switching from Huddersfield as part of a loan-trade deal with ex-Newcastle forward Joe Wardle.
"If one club has a position where they have numbers and another club is looking for a player in that position, it is just common sense," an NRL recruitment manager told NRL.com.
"It has been going on in the Super League for years and it is better use of your money, while the players get the opportunity to play first grade so it is a no-brainer."
There are clubs in the NRL who have a logjam in certain positions who theoretically could consider loaning a player out as an option, like the Sydney Roosters, who have three international wingers in Daniel Tupou, Brett Morris and Ryan Hall, and the Warriors, who boast three hookers – Nathaniel Roache, Wayde Egan and Kane Lawton - in their top 30-man squad.
Cronulla have four top-line centres in Josh Morris, Bronson Xerri, Jesse Ramien and Josh Dugan, while South Sydney still have 12 outside backs despite releasing utility Adam Doueihi to the Tigers last week.
St George Illawarra are still on the lookout for an experienced back, while the Titans need a forward to replace luckless star Ryan James after he suffered a second serious knee injury in as many years at training last week.
However, it is considered more likely that loan deals would involve inexperienced players seeking an opportunity, such as teenage Irish prop Ronan Michael, who has joined the Raiders for 12 months from Huddersfield.
Michael will play for Canberra’s under-20 team this season before returning to the Giants next season as part of an agreement between the two clubs.
Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire became a fan of the loan system when he was at Wigan, before joining South Sydney in 2012, and he recently suggested NRL clubs could send players to Super League on a temporary basis.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.