Under a concept suggested by the International Rugby League deputy chair Troy Grant, players who have signed with rival clubs in 2022 could switch to their new team a year early via a loan system that would benefit both clubs.
In this scenario, which he has not formally put to the NRL, Matt Burton could be loaned by Penrith to Canterbury next season and North Queensland playmaker Jake Clifford would be able to join Newcastle on a temporary basis.
Burton has signed with the Bulldogs from 2022 and Clifford will play one more season in Townsville before moving to Newcastle but their new clubs would be keen to take them immediately if they were able to secure an early release.
Wests Tigers prop Josh Aloiai is in a similar position and is demanding a release from the remaining year of his contract to join Manly but the club won't let him go unless they get a player of similar ability in return.
The idea of trading players is becoming more common in the NRL – Melbourne wanted a like-for-like replacement for Josh Addo-Carr when the star winger looked set to join the Tigers next season, before he committed to the Storm for next year.
A swap between St George Illawarra winger Jason Saab and Manly's Rueben Garrick was also proposed but fell through.
However, Grant believes a loan system would be much simpler and could benefit all parties involved.
"Super League have been doing it for a while, obviously the EPL does it and various other sports around the world have loan systems," said Grant, who was a member of the Project Apollo team responsible for devising a way to resume the Telstra Premiership on May 28.
"Baseball has trades from the major league down to minor leagues and the NBA does the same so I just think it is an evolution that makes sense for the NRL."
The NRL allowed the Warriors to loan players from rival clubs this season to enable the club to keep playing after relocating to Australia, while the Storm and Tigers were involved in a one-season player swap between Harry Grant and Paul Momirovski.
However, it is unclear whether such deals will become more commonplace in the NRL.
To enable a loan system to work effectively, Grant suggested the following rules:
- Pro-rata payments from the club loaning the player to his employer;
- Players could be recalled if needed by their original club; and,
- Loaned players not allowed to play against the club they are contracted to.
"With a couple of simple rules like that I think it has got some merit," Grant said. "It keeps the best players on the park as much as possible. There is always the risk of injury but if they are going to play lower grades there is a risk of getting injured there.
"These are guys who are going in 2022 so that gives a club like Penrith, if they are going to loan Burton out, an opportunity to get eyes on the next player they are developing to replace him."
The Panthers have two other five-eighths rated ahead of Burton by coach Ivan Cleary in Jarome Luai and Tyrone May, while Clifford is vying for a spot in the North Queensland halves with Scott Drinkwater and Michael Morgan.
Clifford had initially asked for a release to join the Knights immediately and after being refused he signed with Newcastle for the 2022 season.
The 22-year-old playmaker's agent, Paul Sutton, has since told North Queensland officials he could help them get former Dragons captain Gareth Widdop from Warrington as a replacement for him.
However, Clifford remains a part of incoming Cowboys coach Todd Payten's plans and the club expects him to serve out the remaining year of his contract.
"It was one sentence from his manager and he got one sentence back in reply," Payten told RadioTAB. "It was basically 'I could get you Gareth for this price' and we said 'we don't have that money'. That was it."
Payten said that Titans recruit Tino Fa'asuamaleaui had played strongly for Melbourne last season, while South Sydney-bound forward Jai Arrow performed well for Gold Coast and the pair were members of Queensland's triumphant State of Origin team.
He expected Clifford would do the same.
Meanwhile, a resolution to Aloiai's dispute with the Tigers is expected before he is due to receive the next monthly instalment of his contract payments on December 1.
The Tigers are reportedly interested in a swap for Manly back-rower Curtis Sironen, who played for the club previously before joining the Sea Eagles in 2017.