Contract debacles plaguing NRL’s credibility
The free-for-all trade system is turning the NRL into a laughing stock. On top of the dozens of players seeking early releases and clubs jettisoning players still under contract, the announcements of stars signing to join rival clubs while they still have a full season to play for their current side has become untenable. The latest twist in the Andrew Fifita saga has highlighted the flaws of the current transfer conditions.
Fifita made two huge blunders – firstly announcing he was joining the Bulldogs in 2015 before the deal was finalised, then declaring just 17 days later that he wished he had gone to Rugby Union and that his heart was with Cronulla – to blow his $3.4 million contract with Canterbury. A trade window, or at the very least more discretion from clubs and players in regards to announcing new deals, would have avoided this latest black eye incurred by the NRL.
The controversial Round 13 registration deadline currently in place – which allowed Josh Papalii to back out of an agreement with Parramatta to remain in Canberra – is set to come under a harsh spotlight once again, with the Raiders set to throw $900,000 a season at Anthony Milford to convince him to turn his back on his move to Brisbane. The impending frenzy over the services of boom Tigers fullback James Tedesco is destined to drag throughout the 2014 season and have fans up in arms once again.
While it is important players have plenty of time to secure their future – particularly given it may mean uprooting their families and moving to another city and so forth – the status quo is clearly not working, and the NRL must swallow its pride and copy a more successful model. For now, the trade-and-transfer system is just another area in which Rugby League is being left behind by its competitors.
Bennett shows true colours
Notoriously media-shy to the point of being rude, Wayne Bennett has been an incredible pillar of strength in what no doubt ranks among the toughest weeks of his career. Bennett has been honest, compassionate and has worn his heart on the sleeve in making himself widely available during a time when it would be far easier to put up the shutters. The Newcastle coach’s candour solidifies his standing as one of the great men in Rugby League and an absolute ornament to the game.
Titans snap up another wayward star
Gold Coast has picked up sacked Penrith speedster James Roberts on a two-year deal, effective immediately. One of the fastest players in the NRL, Roberts played 10 games for Souths as an 18 year old in 2011, before scoring six tries in as many games for the Panthers last season and collecting man-of-the-match honours in their NYC Grand Final victory. But he was punted by both clubs for disciplinary breaches – and now the Titans will attempt to turn Roberts’ career around, as they did with his cousin Albert Kelly.
Stints at Parramatta, Cronulla and Newcastle ended with Kelly being shown the door, but the Gold Coast provided the environment for the troubled half to become one of the breakout stars of 2013. Roberts could prove an outstanding early-season acquisition for a Titans backline that – besides Kelly – is lacking firepower. Their three-quarter line could not muster a try between them in the opening three rounds, before Kevin Gordon and Brad Tighe got on the board against North Queensland by capitalising on mistakes from kicks. The Titans have started with three gritty wins in the opening four rounds, but are well below the form required to challenge for the top eight. Roberts, also a fullback option, could be the spark the Gold Coast needs out wide.
Key men for April
After a topsy-turvy settling-in period, the NRL ladder will start to take shape during April as clubs attempt to gain a strong foothold ahead of the arduous representative period. These players will have a major bearing on a vital month of premiership football:
- Sam Tomkins: A mixed bag against the Tigers – ranging from the abysmal to the brilliant – the Warriors’ new fullback showed signs he is about to explode and justify his massive price tag. His combination on the right-side attack with Shaun Johnson and Konrad Hurrell is lethal.
- Chris Sandow: Two-time wooden spooners Parramatta are gathering momentum, and the enigmatic and troubled halfback’s renaissance could take the long-suffering club to the next level. A make-or-break player if ever there was one.
- James Segeyaro: The Panthers are thereabouts at the moment, but need the X-factor impact James Segeyaro habitually provided last year to make the leap from finals contenders to finals certainties.
- John Sutton: Michael Maguire must bite the bullet and move Sutton back to five-eighth. Teenager Dylan Walker is understandably still coming to grips with the nuances of being an NRL No.6, while the Rabbitohs need his zip in a stagnant three-quarter line. Sutton’s presence at pivot can get Souths’ ailing campaign back on track.
- Kieran Foran: Magnificent in the slog-fest defeat of the Roosters after being tipped to pull out injured, Foran is one of the NRL’s finest competitors – a real heart-and-soul player. He can cement the Sea Eagles’ place in the top four for yet another season.
- Matt Gillett: The dynamic backrower is belatedly bringing consistency into his game and can be the trump card in Brisbane’s burgeoning bid to return to finals football.
- Josh Dugan: Scheduled to make a return soon, Dugan can help the Dragons capitalise on their strong start to 2014 and secure a place in the eight.
- Josh Reynolds: The five-eighth is the Bulldogs’ linchpin but has been down on his trademark high involvement in recent weeks, despite producing some nice touches. The club’s chances hinge on Reynolds more than any other player.
- Terry Campese: Pulling the strings superbly in the Raiders’ handy start to the season, Campese is the steadying influence while the likes of Anthony Milford keep the scoreboard ticking over.
On the rise
Peta Hiku continues to do a marvellous job deputising for injured Manly superstar Brett Stewart, reprising his man-of-the-match turn in the Sea Eagles’ qualifying final loss to the Roosters last season with an outstanding display in last Friday’s equally gruelling shutout of the defending premiers. The former Warriors NYC back has stormed into contention for the New Zealand fullback spot for the May Test against Australia, with incumbent Kevin Locke on the injured list and Josh Hoffman currently playing five-eighth for Brisbane.
Konrad Hurrell is back in first grade to stay – and not just because of the broken jaw suffered by luckless veteran centre Jerome Ropati. Controversially left out of the Warriors’ side for the opening two rounds, Hurrell produced arguably the best all-round performance of his career after replacing Ropati during the first half against the Tigers. He produced the last pass for three of Glen Fisiiahi’s tries, made the bust for the Warriors’ freakish try on halftime and made 182 metres from 13 runs. Hurrell could be another Kiwi Test bolter.
On the slide
The devastating season-ending foot injury suffered by exciting Canberra winger Edrick Lee has already been compounded by Bill Tupou’s bumbling efforts on the flank for the Raiders. Making his first appearance of the season, the erratic former Warriors bombed a certain try against Souths with a lackadaisical put-down attempt. Fortunately, it did not cost Canberra the game – but Ricky Stuart would be prudent to look towards his NYC ranks for a winger.
The departure of Dylan Farrell, Andrew Everingham and Justin Hunt is quickly taking its toll on South Sydney, with Lote Tuqiri’s place in first grade becoming increasingly untenable. Tuqiri made four handling errors in the loss to the Raiders, but the lack of a viable replacement option may give the 35 year old a stay of execution.
Will has published two books on Rugby League:
- A History of State of Origin
- A Short History of Rugby League in Australia
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