Time for the NRL to introduce player trades

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Former Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs rugby league player Ben Barba. AAP Image/Paul Miller

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The NRL headlines over the weekend – Geoff Toovey’s epic whinging aside – were dominated by the news that Ben Barba has asked the Bulldogs for a release from the final two years of his contract on compassionate grounds.

Barba’s former partner, Ainslie Currie, and the pair’s two daughters are looking to settle in Brisbane, and Barba has expressed his desire to move with them.

The Brisbane Broncos are naturally keen to sign Barba, with reports the club has a four-year contract ready to offer the fullback should the Bulldogs grant him a release. In fact, in an intriguing development, Brisbane are willing to pay the Bulldogs compensation in return for allowing Barba to sign with them.

The financial agreement between the two clubs would essentially be a transfer fee, common in many other sports around the globe, most notably European football.

However, the story took an interesting twist with the notion that a swapping of players between the clubs could be an ideal resolution to the problem.

Brisbane fullback Josh Hoffman was the man-of-the-match for the Broncos in their win over the hapless Parramatta Eels on Friday night and is the first-choice fullback for New Zealand.

However, despite Hoffman’s form, should Barba end up signing with Brisbane, he would be required to move away from his favoured position to accommodate Barba’s brilliance in the number one jersey.

So with the Bulldogs suddenly needing to replace Barba, there was an astute observation that perhaps the Bulldogs and Broncos should simply swap players.

Hoffman isn’t quite in Barba’s class, so the swap wouldn’t exactly be fair or equal, but money could be thrown into the deal to even the ledger up. And at least the Bulldogs wouldn’t be left with nothing – from a personnel standpoint – in exchange for granting Barba a release.

In any case, the potential swap was squashed when Hoffman declared he wanted to stay at Brisbane, and potentially to move to five-eighth.

However, if Hoffman was open to moving to the Bulldogs, it stands to reason that an arrangement that benefited all parties could have easily be worked out.

Which naturally raises an interesting question: should the NRL formally introduce official player trades?

My opinion is an overwhelming ‘yes’.

Though the details and rules would need to be thoroughly thought out, there’s a lot of merit in allowing clubs to trade players.

Contracts provide security and assurance to both players and clubs. However, there invariably comes a time when either a player would like to leave a club, or a club would like a player to go.

In such instances, a club is always required to honour a contract, or runs the risk of legal issues, yet players generally seem to have their wishes fulfilled one way or another.

The introduction of player trades could potentially enable both player and club to sever ties in a mutually beneficial manner.

In the face of increasing player power, there certainly needs to be a system in place that helps protects the clubs.

I’m sure fans in the nation’s capital would agree with me.

The Canberra Raiders have been forced to lose Todd Carney, Joel Monaghan and Josh Dugan in the past due to disciplinary issues. Their current fullback Anthony Milford has asked for a release from his contract, and there were reports last week that Origin winger Blake Ferguson has done the same.

In all five cases the potential to trade a player would ensure the Raiders aren’t left with nothing when a contracted player leaves the club.

The Raiders aren’t the only club that could have benefitted from a trading system.

Representative players Luke Lewis and Michael Jennings left the Penrith Panthers in acrimonious circumstances after last season. The two players were no longer wanted by the club, and neither wanted to be at the club. They therefore moved to the Cronulla Sharks and Sydney Roosters respectively.

Both players were on significant money at Penrith and are undeniably talented. Yet the Panthers not only got nothing in return when the players left but are reportedly still paying part of Jennings’contract with the Roosters.

Trading the players would have enabled the Panthers to get something in return for two stars departing the club, if they so desired.

You could list countless other examples where a trade would have been a useful option for a player and/or club in the NRL.

As mentioned, the details and rules would definitely need be carefully considered and designed before such a system is implemented, but I think it’s a no-brainer.

 

Ryan is an ex-representative basketballer who shot too much, and a (very) medium pace bowler. He's been with The Roar as an expert since February 2011, has written for the Seven Network, and been a regular on ABC radio. Ryan tweets from @RyanOak.

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