Home » Smith farce highlights NRL’s need to change

Smith farce highlights NRL’s need to change

With Brandon Smith being all-but-confirmed as a Sydney Roosters player for 2023, he joins a growing list of players who’ve worked out where they’ll be playing in two years’ time, before a ball is even kicked in 2022.

When players are traded in American sports, they’re out of the building instantly – and when their contract is expiring, they aren’t free to negotiate with teams until the off-season.

The NRL has now racked up decades of farcical situations of players remaining at a club for 12 to 18 months after signing elsewhere – and there doesn’t appear to be any real upside to any of it.

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Fans of a player’s current team are annoyed when they see or hear overtures from that player towards his future employer, it can disrupt the playing group, or even the player himself, who must then face questions about two clubs instead of one for the remainder of their existing contract.

You can go all the way back to Justin Hodges in 2001, when he was banished to reserve grade by Wayne Bennett for signing with the Roosters – Craig Wing at Souths a few years’ later, or even Viliame Kikau a fortnight ago.

Storm fans and staff are furious with Smith being recording as saying “I want to win a premiership in that jersey,” and rightfully so – but equally nothing he said was wrong.

The only thing Smith can really be guilty of is saying the quiet part out loud.

And that’s the thing – if Smith had waxed lyrical about the Roosters culture, his chats with Mitch Aubusson on the golf course, and the way that organisation is run, in November of next year, nobody would care.

But because he’s now supposed to go back and play under Craig Bellamy, and with a squad of players who have just heard him talk about winning a premiership with another team, it becomes an issue.

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There’s a simple fix to all of this, and it’s long overdue in rugby league – prevent players from signing elsewhere until the conclusion of their final season under contract, and have one in-season ‘transfer window’ somewhere towards the middle of the season for wantaway or unhappy players.

You see this problem a lot in the NBA, where many fans are more addicted to the drama of off-season rumours than the game itself – and rugby league finds itself on a similar path, if not already at the same destination, when it comes to a fascination about where a player will be playing later on, rather than where he currently is.

Talks of player movements begin to derail seasons well before round one, and remain a constant storyline throughout most NRL seasons. Adam Reynolds probably fielded as many questions about the Broncos as he did the Rabbitohs throughout 2021.

You’re never going to be able to fully stop tampering and shadow movements, but establishing clear and rigid timelines that don’t result in situations like the ones Smith or Kikau face in 2022 would go a long way to solving a problem that’s all the NRL’s own creation.

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