In the interests of fairness, the NRL needs in-season player trades

Ryan O'Connell Columnist

By , Ryan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    We are now just two rounds in to the 2017 NRL season, yet that has been more than enough time for a case to be made that player trades should become part of the landscape.

    This has been discussed numerous times in the past. Even by yours truly, back in 2013.

    To be fair, it’s worth pointing out that player trades in the NRL already do happen. They occur predominantly in the off-season, when teams try to accommodate an unhappy player’s desire to break his contract, thus the club looking for a mutually beneficial arrangement with another club.

    They also occur when a team no longer wants a contracted player, and proactively tries to find them a new home.

    However, such deals are rare.

    Yet not as rare as an in-season trade, when two clubs swap players during the season.

    It’s unusual, but I can’t see a reason why such player movement can’t happen, provided the contracted players involved both agree to the deal.

    Moving players without their consent occurs in other sports, but that opens a whole different can of worms with restraint-of-trade laws, so I’m not suggesting the NRL go there.

    Yet it seems silly that clubs feel the need to wait until their season is over before addressing weaknesses with their rosters.

    The NRL website states that a club cannot approach a player with the intent of getting him to break his existing agreement, but that doesn’t mean clubs shouldn’t discuss an in-season swapping of players that helps both teams, and is agreed to by both players.

    It’s really the mindset that needs to change, rather than the rules. If CEOs had the attitude that roster shake-ups in-season are a viable option, it would increase the chances of them happening, while adding a whole new dimension to the competition.

    When Greg Inglis went down – eventually – with an injured knee in Round 1, Souths premiership hopes were said to have gone down with him. Ignoring for a second their impressive Round 2 victory over Manly, what if that didn’t need to be the case?

    What if Souths’ outlook was: “We’ve lost our fullback for the year, so we should make a deal to bring in another quality fullback straight away, rather than give-up on 2017, or trying to make do without one.”

    greg-inglis-south-sydney-rabbitohs-nrl-rugby-league-2017

    Here’s a hypothetical situation. Brett Morris has played fullback, and done quite well there for both the Bulldogs and Dragons in previous seasons. Let’s pretend he’s frustrated at being stuck on the wing, and is open to replacing Inglis for Souths.

    Meanwhile, John Sutton prefers being in the halves – rather than the backrow – and is also worried about potentially being salary-cap squeezed out of the club he loves. The Bulldogs need an experienced playmaker who can take control of the team, and therefore consider a deal of Morris for Sutton to be to their liking.

    So, the clubs arrange a trade now, with the hope of addressing their respective issues immediately.

    Granted, the above scenario has a number of logic flaws. Will Hopoate’s injury ensures that the Bulldogs have their own fullback concerns, while Sutton isn’t exactly the answer to the Dogs’ decision-making woes. Meanwhile, Alex Johnston looked right at home in filling Inglis’ shoes for the Bunnies on Saturday afternoon. So neither club would be rushing to make that particular deal.

    However, it illustrates a point that clubs could be a little more proactive and aggressive in seeking to address personnel issues.

    A quick glance at NRL rosters reveals a number of situations that are ripe for some more open-minded thinking.

    Jarryd Hayne appeared to be having problems fitting in on the Gold Coast, and there would still be a host of teams interested in acquiring his services, and willing to give something significant up to get him. Now that he’s injured for the foreseeable future, perhaps the Titans are on the lookout for a talented back? In both cases, a trade could be a fantastic solution.

    The Bulldogs have a glut of talented forwards, with one or two potentially surplus to requirements. They also have a major issue with their fifth tackle options.

    The Wests Tigers have two talented halves, however Mitchell Moses and Luke Brooks are liabilities in defence, and you could make the argument you can’t have both in your line-up if you want to compete with elite attacking teams.

    Luke Brooks in action. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Colin Whelan)

    Both players are also chasing a big contract soon, so the Tigers may need to choose just one. Yet rather than losing one of them for nothing, perhaps they should try and obtain some value by trading for a need they have elsewhere? Like a big forward?

    I’m sure you can see where I’m going with that one.

    Elsewhere, Josh Hoffman might be squandered on the wing. Damien Cook is too good to be starting on the bench. Josh Reynolds needs a fresh start. The Cowboys are big prop down, thanks to Matt Scott’s ACL injury.

    Even last year, the feud between Robbie Farah and Jason Taylor took way too long to be resolved, and an in-season trade may have seen it sorted sooner.

    The sticky subject of contracts, and salary cap ramifications, may prove a large hurdle to a litany of in-season trades, but as long as all parties are happy within specific deals, I can’t see why it doesn’t happen more often.

    In fact, when you look at more closely, it’s kind of crazy that it doesn’t.

    Ryan O
    Ryan O'Connell

    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.