Mid-season moves and contracts signed more than 12 months into the future have long been the scourge of the NRL.
They cause unnecessary drama and annoy fans and commentators alike.
A transfer window has been promoted as a solution, but how would one work?
What is a transfer window?
A transfer window is a set period of time when teams can sign and release players. The best example is that used in football’s English Premier League. Two transfer windows are available each season.
One in summer, during the off-season. And one during winter, which falls mid-season. Teams have roughly a month in winter and 12 weeks in summer to shuffle squads, spend money and sell players.
There are some rules around when players can and can’t be approached. Players aren’t supposed to be approached by prospective clubs outside the window, however it happens on a regular basis and very rarely do clubs speak about it.
The transfer window in rugby league could theoretically run from June 1st – June 30th during the season and from November 1st to January 31st in the off-season.
Players can elect to either sign and move mid-season or sign and move at the end of the season if they are picked up during the transfer window. However there should be a block on players signing 12 months ahead of time.
That of course could be skated around through a loan system that will be covered later.
There would also be an allowance for teams to cover shortfalls mid-season by signing NSW or QLD Cup players if needed, who are essentially free agents under this scheme.
Why a transfer window?
Every season it seems the same storyline plays out. Players are shopped around almost continuously, deals are being signed throughout the season. In fact, if some journalists are to be believed, Canberra Raiders backrower John Bateman’s manager was sniffing out a deal during grand final week.
Fans, coaches and clubs would prefer more certainty during the game. They shouldn’t be expected to be considering squad management in the first week of the season, yet that can happen.
A transfer window can also be used to remove any chances of players backflipping on deals.
The NRL has already tapped the brakes on that following the Daly Cherry-Evans and Josh Papalii sagas.
Those backflips can have long-lasting consequences no one realises at the time.
When Cherry-Evans backflipped, the Gold Coast Titans had already released halfback Aiden Sezer who was then picked up by the Canberra Raiders.
This meant the Titans were without a halfback because a player decided to pull the plug well after he’d signed his contract.
Signing rumours will persist throughout the season. But everyone will know that nothing can actually be done until the transfer windows.
A transfer window also gives the NRL a more professional look when it comes to player movements given it’s essentially had the same transfer policy since the 1980s when locals and imports quotas were removed.
Most other professional sporting codes of a variant of a transfer window or signing period, while some also combine that with a rookie draft.
Introduce the loan system
A loan system should also be introduced alongside the transfer window.
The NRL is effectively trialling that this season with the Warriors allowed to receive loan players while Wests Tigers and Melbourne Storm have engaged in a player swap for one year with Harry Grant and Paul Momirovski switching sides.
It’s a system that benefits everyone. Players who wouldn’t otherwise get playing time get to play first grade while clubs that need some extra depth to fill a glaring weakness in their roster don’t have to shell out for a multi-year contract.
To save any financial headaches, the “parent” club of the player should retain their contract and salary during the loan in order to prevent any form of salary cap funny business.
The loan system also benefits development clubs that sometimes have so many juniors hitting first grade at once that they can’t keep them all and some of those juniors move on to get playing time because they don’t want to wait in the lower grades.
The ability to loan them to other sides means those players get NRL game time while their parent club retains their contract and also has a better gauge on whether or not that player is worth upgrading long term or allowing them to move on.
Another consideration is that loan players should not be able to play against their parent club. It’s something that happens in the EPL and would, at most impact the player three times in a season.
As mentioned earlier, the loan system can also be used in conjunction with players signing a new contract 12 months out from when it actually starts.
Say the Bulldogs have money for a half in 2021 but all their halves spots are filled and none of them want to move on. Come 2022 the player they want may not be on the market.
So, they sign that player from 2021 onwards, but loan him back to his old club for the 2021 season with him to join the Bulldogs full time from 2022. This is a situation seen a lot in Europe, often used with young players who bigger clubs want to recruit but want them to receive regular top grade games.
So, is a loan system and transfer window the way to go?