Experts Roar: What should be NRL’s signings system

The annual debate over whether the NRL needs to overhaul its player transfer system is raging again with representative stars Kalyn Ponga and Cameron Munster at the centre of the latest flare-up.

For its part, the NRL has again said it is reviewing the system amid heavy criticisms from fans and the media about the circus surrounding player transfers, often more than a year out from the end of a contract.

One of the options being considered is a freeze on any player switches between clubs apart from designated transfer windows during the season and at the end of the year.

The RLPA is part of the discussions with Rugby League Central as the two parties begin working on a new collective bargaining agreement, which is due to kick off in 2023.

Whichever way the NRL ends up going, it is unlikely to end the ongoing debate about which system works best.

The Roar experts have their say and if you’d like to do likewise, fire away in the comments section below.

Experts Roar – player transfers

Michael Hagan (premiership-winning player and coach)

I wrote about this in my Roar column a couple of weeks ago – why not a swap meet at Magic Round in season and an IPL style auction at the end of the year? The transfer window at the end of the year would probably need to be 6-8 weeks long to give players time to settle their deals and rearrange for themselves and their family to move. Some deals these days, the negotiations start in November and it’s not until six months later they get sorted out.

I quite like the loan scenario where genuine loan arrangements can occur when two clubs and the players are all in agreement.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 07: Kalyn Ponga of the Knights is tackled during the round five NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and the Manly Sea Eagles at McDonald Jones Stadium, on April 07, 2022, in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Paul Suttor (Roar expert)

There should be a transfer window for a month in season, around the April-May ballpark and the entire off-season for any other switches where a player wants to sign elsewhere.

If clubs want to loan players out for part of their deal or trade contracts altogether with another team, that should be allowed in the first half of the season also as long the existing deals are honoured.

Part of the NRL’s problem is once a club signs a player to a deal and the player out-performs their value, their agent agitates for an upgraded deal or the player will ask for a release. Wests Tigers fans don’t need to be reminded of the Ryan Matterson shemozzle.

Sports leagues like the NBA have a system where a player signs the contract for a fixed term and wherever they play, that’s what they receive for the duration of the deal. It works. If a player signs what turns out to be less than what they could have earned, they fire their agent. And nobody will shed a tear for them.

And nobody should be able to negotiate or even discuss their next deal with a rival club more than 12 months out.

Mary Konstantopoulos (Ladies Who League)

This is not one of my major bug-bears with the NRL, but I think what might work is having one transfer window which would open after the Grand Final.

This would hopeful reduce the number of players with a year left on their contract for one club, before moving to their next.

Danielle Smith (Roar expert)

I love the idea of one transfer window at the end of the year. I’m happy for managers to have discussions with clubs throughout the season, but no signings are allowed until the end of the year. I would also like to take it further and have it only be for the following year.

Viliame Kikau of the Panthers and Jarome Luai of the Panthers celebrate

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Look at the Brandon Smith and Viliame Kikau debacles, announcing their 2023 plans before 2022 had even started! They were terrible situations. And I hate watching players play for a club with all of us knowing that they will be playing for a new club next year. Players and their families do not need a whole season to organise relocation, the off-season is more than enough time. 

Stuart Thomas (Roar expert)

The idea of a transfer window has merit, yet there have always been restrictions around when player agents and clubs could discuss potential movement of players and the rules have rarely been adhered to. The best course forward for rugby league is a national draft and associated free agency.

Players without NRL experience would enter a draft where the bottom club receives the pick of the best talent available. In the future and once the system is well established, picks could be traded between teams, as occurs in the AFL. In the short term, I would suggest players with five or less years of NRL experience would be forced to enter the draft should they be keen to make a move or their parent club be eager to move them on.

Considering the salary cap does not appear to be providing the parity it is intended to achieve, a draft and the chance for clubs on the lower rungs of the ladder to pick up the best young talent available could well prove beneficial to the game in the long term.

Joe Frost (Roar expert)

I believe it was Clive Churchill who said, “The NRL’s is the worst form of transfer system – except for all the others that have been tried.” Other, “better” systems work because they are for sports with a lower risk of injury and higher chance of becoming insanely wealthy. 

Cam McInnes is all the evidence you need that the NRL system is imperfect but it looks after the people who need it. (That said, a better loan system would be nice…)

Mike Meehall Wood (Roar expert)

I sort of reject the thinking that the transfer system is broken. What we see now is just the latest iteration of what has happened in RL since 1895 and will continue into the future. I genuinely try to ignore everything to do with it until a player suits up in a new shirt with a new team. 

Players always move and good teams get around it by having systems. Bad teams try to sign their way out of their problems. Who cares who has signed for Penrith or Melbourne in 2023?

AJ Mithen (Roar expert)

I’ve been on this for years and my view hasn’t changed – open slather. Let any player move to any team at any time until June 30, and let teams trade players. And long as the receiving club has the salary space to accommodate them, let players leave as soon as the papers are approved. 

Let teams buy out a contract and compensate the other club (within the cap) if they want a player badly enough. Hold a two-week trade period at the end of the year. If a player has the means, let him or her buy out their own contract to become a free agent. 

In short, let the players make as much cash as they can, and get as much game time as they can to show their worth.

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