Transfer fee on junior players could be the way forward
Since its inception in 2008, the National Youth Competition has been a winner on all levels for the NRL. The concept has created an environment where young players can grow and push their claims for a career in rugby league.
Meanwhile it also has provided an exciting and meaningful curtain raiser for television and live audiences.
After four seasons, whereby countless players has passed through the system to sit among the game’s elite, it is time for the NRL to implement a strategy which discourages clubs from poaching rival teams’ junior players. The plan must thus encourage clubs to instead foster their own talent.
Let’s use the example of the New Zealand Warriors, the club that has been most successful at under-20s level to date, with two premierships and 18 players progressing through to the Toyota Cup system and into their first-grade side.
In addition to these players, several Warriors juniors have gone on to play NRL football with other clubs.
Nafe Seluini (Penrith Panthers), Constantine Mika (Newcastle Knights and Hull KR in the UK Super League) and most recently Neccrom Areaiiti (South Sydney Rabbitohs) all went through the Warriors system, only to leave for other clubs after playing a single game of first grade for their hometown team.
Sure, it’s great that these players have gone on to make a career in league, regardless of where that is.
But how is it right that a club invests countless hours and dollars preparing a player for life in the NRL, only for a rival club to poach them just as they are ready to make the step up?
In this situation the NRL needs to step in to ensure that smaller-market clubs, such as the Warriors, Canberra Raiders and Cronulla Sharks are not robbed of their best juniors by larger, more prestigious clubs without some form of compensation.
My proposal is a transfer-fee system, similar to that which has been successfully implemented in professional football for years.
This would be attached to rookie players, who choose to leave their junior club for another before playing first grade.
With the upcoming television deal expected to significantly top up the bank accounts of all 16 clubs, the option is financially feasible.
It only needs to apply to juniors registered with the Toyota Cup competition, who have not played first grade; as soon as they make the NRL the fee disappears.
The amount could either be set at the start of the year by the club or negotiated if and when a rival club comes knocking for the player, regardless of whether or not they are still under contract.
The concept simply means that a club’s best junior players will come at an expensive cost to would-be poachers.
This may sound to some like yet another overseas concept which has no place in our game and it is not without its faults.
But how long until the next Daly Cherry Evans, Matt Gillett or Josh Dugan are stolen away from their junior club prematurely?
A transfer fee could just be the answer to ensuring that the NRL remains a fair and evenly contested competition, where clubs prefer to develop their own players, rather than pinching them from somewhere else.