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

Ryan O'Connell Columnist

By Ryan O'Connell, Ryan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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42 Have your say

    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.”


    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.

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    The Crowd Says (42)

    • March 15th 2017 @ 7:33am
      Silvertail47 said | March 15th 2017 @ 7:33am | ! Report

      I’d love for Manly to swap our candy man for a carramello koala !

    • Roar Guru

      March 15th 2017 @ 7:42am
      The Barry said | March 15th 2017 @ 7:42am | ! Report

      It’s a great concept. Mid season trades can work well for all parties.

      I don’t think there are rules that prevent it as long as clubs and players all agree.

      While they weren’t player trades per se in 2012 the Dogs brought Sam Perrett and Krisnan Inu into the club mid season. They ended up playing in a GF that year rather than languishing in reserve grade. Filled a gap and the Roosters and Warriors freed up cap space.

      Last year the Dogs and Warriors did a straight trade of Shaun Lane for Ray Faitala-Mariner.

      Salary cap implications would be the main barrier.

      • March 15th 2017 @ 7:54am
        Oingo Boingo said | March 15th 2017 @ 7:54am | ! Report

        So the article is in fact about solving a problem that doesn’t actually exist ?

        • Columnist

          March 15th 2017 @ 8:17am
          Ryan O'Connell said | March 15th 2017 @ 8:17am | ! Report

          Let me draw your attention to an entire paragraph that you must have missed. Don’t worry, it happens.

          “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.”

          • Roar Guru

            March 15th 2017 @ 8:44am
            The Barry said | March 15th 2017 @ 8:44am | ! Report

            Yeah that’s the key. A couple of forward thinking execs could make this become the norm.

            I think it would add an extra dimension to the comp.

            • March 15th 2017 @ 10:27am
              Glenn said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:27am | ! Report

              Actually a couple of forward thinking execs in charge of NRL would be a good step forward.

              • Roar Guru

                March 15th 2017 @ 10:40am
                Magnus M. Østergaard said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:40am | ! Report

                Yeah, have to agree. Running multimillion dollar businesses is not a job for the boys.

              • Columnist

                March 15th 2017 @ 2:50pm
                AJ Mithen said | March 15th 2017 @ 2:50pm | ! Report


      • March 15th 2017 @ 8:37am
        kk said | March 15th 2017 @ 8:37am | ! Report

        The Inu Factor. Smile at the ball and it will go between the posts.

        • March 15th 2017 @ 11:20am
          Beastie said | March 15th 2017 @ 11:20am | ! Report

          Only if you stick your tongue out at it just a little bit.

      • Roar Guru

        March 15th 2017 @ 9:30am
        Will Sinclair said | March 15th 2017 @ 9:30am | ! Report

        Don’t forget Rocket Rod Silva, who transferred from Easts mid-season in 1995 to win a Premiership with the Bulldogs (albeit with the assistance of some very interesting refereeing!!).

        • Roar Guru

          March 16th 2017 @ 2:57pm
          The Barry said | March 16th 2017 @ 2:57pm | ! Report

          Haha…what was it three tries to zip…? Should have been four but for the ref…

    • March 15th 2017 @ 8:13am
      Paul said | March 15th 2017 @ 8:13am | ! Report

      You are right, we should give clubs more opportunities to make bad decisions……:)

    • March 15th 2017 @ 8:44am
      peeeko said | March 15th 2017 @ 8:44am | ! Report

      agree, it happens in many other sports and isnt a problem

    • March 15th 2017 @ 9:20am
      andrew said | March 15th 2017 @ 9:20am | ! Report

      Again comes back to Execs who can’t think outside the square. Pay more for better club Exec’s and you may see more of it.

      A catch, as i see it If I am Sutton (in your hypothetical), The player (and more specifically his agent) would say – “okay, you have a need and in order to get that need, you need me to leave. What is in it for me?”. So there are fewer scenarios where straight swaps work for the player and the club.

      I can see it working better when you might trade to get a good player for now if you are a contender, and send a couple of players of potential for the future to a club who are not in contention. But then the cap becomes a problem because you are not talking about comparable salaries in all likelihood.

      It goes without saying that if we had a draft and you could trade players for draft picks it would create more activity, but that is a pipe dream i know..

      • March 15th 2017 @ 4:17pm
        Albo said | March 15th 2017 @ 4:17pm | ! Report

        Maybe they could just adopt the Supercoach rules ! Two trades per week whilst maintaining the salary cap ceiling ?

        • March 16th 2017 @ 9:43am
          Ryan O'Connell said | March 16th 2017 @ 9:43am | ! Report

          I’m in!

    • Roar Pro

      March 15th 2017 @ 9:26am
      QConners said | March 15th 2017 @ 9:26am | ! Report

      Love the idea, has a lot of merit to it. Only issue I can see, and others it seems, is how it would work with the salary cap. Also, some good trades throughout the season may be an awesome way to create a bit of buzz and interest during the comp, but I’d hope it wouldn’t turn into the NBA were we just see trades constantly and loyalty goes out the window.

      • Roar Rookie

        March 15th 2017 @ 9:50am
        josh said | March 15th 2017 @ 9:50am | ! Report

        Clubs aren’t bound to loyalty, so why should players?

        • March 15th 2017 @ 2:42pm
          KenW said | March 15th 2017 @ 2:42pm | ! Report

          It’s more about the fans really. We already live with the idea that many of the players don’t love the jersey like we do and, quite fairly, choose their employers based on their needs. But this mostly happens at the end of seasons, players moving around en masse mid-season could be a bit jarring.

          I’m aware that this already happens to some extent as mentioned by others. Last season Newcastle & Saints did two individual swaps with Pete Mata’utai going to Newcastle while Tariq Sims went the other way.

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