Why not a father-son rule in the NRL?

Bret Harris Columnist

By Bret Harris, Bret Harris is a Roar Expert


89 Have your say

    Sons follow their father’s footsteps into all sorts of professions and trades from doctors to dairy farmers. Rugby league is no different.

    Famous surnames regularly reappear in the game from one generation to the next. Fulton, Goodwin and Pearce but to name a few. It is in their blood.

    Sometimes sons play for their fathers’ clubs, but often they do not, which is a shame.

    Rugby league is built on tribalism, but what is that if not family, friends and community, and the ties that bind them all together.

    In the AFL they have a father-son rule which encourages clubs to recruit the sons of players who have played for them.

    AFL clubs are given preferential recruiting access to the sons of players who have made a major contribution to the team.

    The father-son rule was introduced in 1949 to circumvent the zoning system in the VFL, the forerunner to the AFL.

    The origin of the rule is believed to be the lobbying of the Melbourne club to have a young Ron Barassi follow in the footsteps of his father Ron Barassi senior, who died in World War Two, but the first player cleared was Harvey Dunn junior, who joined his father’s old club, Carlton, in 1951.

    The rule was later incorporated into the draft, which was introduced to the VFL in 1981.

    Rugby league does not have a zoning system or a draft, but it does have a salary cap.

    Some cynics say loyalty has gone out of the game, but the NRL does have a long serving player allowance which encourages clubs to retain players who have served a continuous period of 10 years in first grade. There is also a marquee player allowance.

    The NRL could introduce a father-son allowance, which would provide extra flexibility to the salary cap, but more importantly keep the bloodlines flowing in clubs across the generations.

    I asked the NRL about the father-son idea several years ago and the attitude was they did not need a rule because most sons played for their father’s clubs anyway.

    A quick glance at current NRL rosters tells you this is certainly the case. Jack Johns (Matt), Zac Hosking (Dave) and Jayden Butterfield (Mark) at the Knights; Lachlan Lam (Adrian), Sean O’Sullivan (Peter), Nick O’Meley (Mark), Jake O’Meley (Mark) at the Roosters; Tristan Sailor (Wendell), Dylan Morris (Steve), Jackson Willis (Andrew) at the Dragons; Reed Izzard (Brad), Ben Cartwright (John) at the Panthers and Kyle Flanagan (Shane) at the Sharks.

    So there is no need for a father-son rule, right? Well, not necessarily.

    Mitchell Pearce (Wayne) does not play for the Tigers; Paul Carter (Steve) does not play for the Panthers and Nathan Cleary (Ivan) does not play for the Sea Eagles, Roosters or Warriors.

    Mitchell Pearce NSW Blues State of Origin NRL Rugby League 2017

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    There are loads of examples, past and present, where sons have not followed their father’s footsteps. In some cases this may be a choice. There could be a family break-up or the son does not want to live in the shadow of a famous dad.

    But in other cases it is just plain economics.

    In the 1980s Canterbury was known as ‘The Family Club’. The Bulldogs had two sets of three brothers – Garry, Graeme and Mark Hughes and Chris, Peter and Steve Mortimer – who played together in back-to-back grand finals in 1979 and 1980.

    Garry Hughes three sons – Corey, Glen and Steven – continued the family tradition at the Bulldogs, but Peter Mortimer’s two boys, Daniel and Robbie did not.

    Daniel played for the Eels, Titans and Roosters before joining English club Leigh Centurions, but a father-son rule probably would have allowed him to play keep the Mortimer name at the Bulldogs.

    They say AFL fans are born in their club’s colours. The father-son rule is part of that family tradition.

    My understanding is the NRL are now considering a father-son rule. When the officials weigh up the merits of the idea they might think about the first time they attended a rugby league game when they were boys – chances are their dads took them.

    Bret Harris
    Bret Harris

    One of Australia's most respected sports journalists, Bret Harris has been a mainstay of sports media in the country for decades. He has written extensively about rugby union, rugby league and many other sports, and is the author of a number of books, including Rocky Elsom: Leader of the Wallabies and Ella: The Definitive Biography, which he co-authored alongside Mark Ella.

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    The Crowd Says (89)

    • Roar Guru

      July 4th 2017 @ 7:30am
      BigJ said | July 4th 2017 @ 7:30am | ! Report

      Name me one son that has out played his father in the NRL???? AFL there is really only one Gary Albert Jnr and that is debateable. AFL clubs are given preferential recruiting access to the sons of players who have made a major contribution to the team.

      There is your case not to do it right there. Why should someone get preferential just because of his fathers name instead of earning his place like everbody else. Plus this father/son idea will come to a grinding halt in a generation as most of the fellas these days are having girls. There wont be a Thurston junior to watch unless they allow fellas and ladies on the same team as he only has girls(probably punishment for previous sins) and im pretty sure Slater and Smith only have girls as well. So no four horseman 2.0 (Coyright BigJ) Ha ha. Plus its a silly idea. Bulldogs the family club yiu say. Well not after Hasler ripped the guts out of it.

      • July 4th 2017 @ 7:51am
        Shaun said | July 4th 2017 @ 7:51am | ! Report

        Name one son that out played his father…
        Wendell Sailor and Matty Johns off the top of my head.

        • Roar Guru

          July 4th 2017 @ 8:59am
          BigJ said | July 4th 2017 @ 8:59am | ! Report

          I meant todays generation not a generation ago. Todays players are no where near as good as thier fathers.

          • Roar Guru

            July 4th 2017 @ 10:54am
            peeeko said | July 4th 2017 @ 10:54am | ! Report

            Nathan Peats is better than Geordi
            Nathan Cleary will be better than Ivan
            Brett Finch better than Robert
            Craig Fitzgibbon better than Alan
            Ryan Hoffman etter than Jay
            Morris brothers equal to Dad
            Hopoate – equal

            the rest are all the other way like you said

            • Roar Guru

              July 4th 2017 @ 5:32pm
              BigJ said | July 4th 2017 @ 5:32pm | ! Report

              So thats one definite and a heap of maybes. You just proven my point why this is waste of time.

              • July 4th 2017 @ 11:01pm
                peeeko said | July 4th 2017 @ 11:01pm | ! Report

                there is 4 on that list. but i agree with you it is a waste of time

            • July 4th 2017 @ 7:03pm
              Swanny said | July 4th 2017 @ 7:03pm | ! Report


              U r having a laugh with that list

              • July 4th 2017 @ 11:01pm
                peeeko said | July 4th 2017 @ 11:01pm | ! Report

                what is your problem with that list?

          • July 4th 2017 @ 1:02pm
            Shaun said | July 4th 2017 @ 1:02pm | ! Report

            It only seems that way because the only father son combos you normally hear about are ones with superstar fathers… The son of a joe bloggs 10 game NRL player wouldn’t get a mention

      • July 4th 2017 @ 7:52am
        Shaun said | July 4th 2017 @ 7:52am | ! Report

        In fact, have a look at the link below and you’ll see there are bucket loads.

      • July 4th 2017 @ 9:22am
        spruce moose said | July 4th 2017 @ 9:22am | ! Report

        Only Gary Ablett Jnr was better than his dad in the AFL?

        Dustin Fletcher was better than his dad.
        Luke Darcy was much better than his dad.
        Ben cousins was better than his dad.
        Matthew Scarlett was significantly better than his dad.
        Stephen silvagni was better than his dad.
        Tom Hawkins is better than his dad.
        Joe Daniher is better than his dad.

        • Roar Guru

          July 4th 2017 @ 10:28am
          JamesH said | July 4th 2017 @ 10:28am | ! Report

          Spot on. I was going to say something similar.

          Jobe Watson and Travis Cloke would be in the conversation too. Darcy Moore, Mitch Wallace and Tom Liberatore (just off the top of my head) may well surpass their old men by the time their respective careers are through.

          • July 4th 2017 @ 11:22am
            spruce moose said | July 4th 2017 @ 11:22am | ! Report

            ooh, I think Tom Libba has a while to go.

            Jury is out on David or Travis Cloke. Travis Cloke only had 2 good years after all.

        • Roar Guru

          July 4th 2017 @ 10:51am
          BigJ said | July 4th 2017 @ 10:51am | ! Report

          I am not a Afl expect, nor to i pretend to be, remember i have only done 2 AfL articles.

          • July 4th 2017 @ 11:21am
            spruce moose said | July 4th 2017 @ 11:21am | ! Report

            Then don’t spout ill-informed nonsense like you are informed.

            Though you were half right. You said it was debatable, and you got debated something fierce.

          • Roar Guru

            July 4th 2017 @ 3:53pm
            The Barry said | July 4th 2017 @ 3:53pm | ! Report

            Don’t worry about it bigj – you’re not a rugby league expert either.

            • Roar Guru

              July 4th 2017 @ 5:29pm
              BigJ said | July 4th 2017 @ 5:29pm | ! Report

              Never said i was

              • July 4th 2017 @ 8:04pm
                Jake said | July 4th 2017 @ 8:04pm | ! Report

                Do more sit-ups.

      • July 4th 2017 @ 9:43am
        Oingo Boingo said | July 4th 2017 @ 9:43am | ! Report

        Most of the fellas are having girls ?
        Can you supply the comprehensive data sample that lead you to that conclusion please ?

        • Roar Guru

          July 4th 2017 @ 10:03am
          The Barry said | July 4th 2017 @ 10:03am | ! Report

          Come on he’s done his research and named one player who has had girls and two maybes, isn’t that proof enough?


      • Roar Guru

        July 4th 2017 @ 10:42am
        Con Scortis said | July 4th 2017 @ 10:42am | ! Report

        Here’s one: Jarryd Hayne has outplayed Manoa Thompson.

        • Roar Guru

          July 4th 2017 @ 10:43am
          Con Scortis said | July 4th 2017 @ 10:43am | ! Report

          Ryan Cross outplayed Paul Cross

          • Roar Guru

            July 4th 2017 @ 10:46am
            Con Scortis said | July 4th 2017 @ 10:46am | ! Report

            Sam Burgess outplayed Mark Burgess

            • Roar Guru

              July 4th 2017 @ 10:47am
              Con Scortis said | July 4th 2017 @ 10:47am | ! Report

              Dally Cherry Evans outplayed Troy Evans

              • Roar Guru

                July 4th 2017 @ 10:47am
                Con Scortis said | July 4th 2017 @ 10:47am | ! Report

                Get back to work Con, you bludger

            • Roar Guru

              July 4th 2017 @ 10:52am
              BigJ said | July 4th 2017 @ 10:52am | ! Report

              Did Mark Burgees ever play in the NSWRL???

            • July 4th 2017 @ 11:06am
              Oingo Boingo said | July 4th 2017 @ 11:06am | ! Report

              And “Baby John”.

      • July 4th 2017 @ 2:17pm
        Griffo said | July 4th 2017 @ 2:17pm | ! Report

        I think that Gary Ablett jnr might be as good as his dad, but to use him as the example of the only one better than his dad doesn’t make sense to me as there are a number of players from the AFL better than their fathers, and it’s arguable that as good as Gary Jnr is, he’s not one of them. Jonathan Brown was better than his dad. Jack Viney may become better than his dad. Stephen Silvagni for sure. Besides it doesn’t matter. They don’t have to be better, just good enough.

      • July 4th 2017 @ 3:01pm
        Billy Tea said | July 4th 2017 @ 3:01pm | ! Report

        Jarryd Hayne certainly has a more illustrious career than his father Manoa Thompson who played over 60 games for Rabbitohs in the 90’s. Manoa was blessed with a big boot though.

      • July 4th 2017 @ 3:10pm
        BigAl said | July 4th 2017 @ 3:10pm | ! Report

        Steve Silvagni was way better than his dad Serge !

      • July 4th 2017 @ 3:57pm
        Griffo said | July 4th 2017 @ 3:57pm | ! Report

        Another point. You mame players now who only have girls but the players you name are some of the best players tonever grace the game. Even if they did/do have have boys (and some still might) it is going to be exceptionally difficult for a son of these guys to outshine his father. Far more likely to happen from the son of a club favourite who was never one of the greats.

      • July 5th 2017 @ 11:16am
        Jaime O'Donnell said | July 5th 2017 @ 11:16am | ! Report

        I’d say Brett Mullins (Canberra Raiders and Sydney Roosters) achieved a bit more than his father Bill (Eastern Suburbs Roosters).

      • July 10th 2017 @ 3:33am
        Lidcombe Oval said | July 10th 2017 @ 3:33am | ! Report

        Are sons of former players forced to go to that club though – be restraint of trade if so- AFL has a draft etc which if ever challenged in court would be deemed illegal as the league one was – Dennis Tutty Transfer rule and Terry Hill (Internal/external Draft) for instance

      • July 10th 2017 @ 3:34am
        Lidcombe Oval said | July 10th 2017 @ 3:34am | ! Report

        Four Horsemen – The Clash – London Calling album

    • July 4th 2017 @ 7:35am
      Soda said | July 4th 2017 @ 7:35am | ! Report

      This isn’t the worst idea. Rugby league needs to take steps in this direction to bring back some of that tribalism. We need tweaks like this to the cap to create that sense of loyalty. I would love to see a loyalty concession on the cap for the amount of games played for on club, accrued like long service leave. Say a player plays 100 games for one club, a percentage of his salary is excluded from the cap, 200 games a greater percentage is excluded and 300 games + an even greater percentage is excluded from the cap. This is just another idea, and I’m sure there a few holes in it that a shrewd manager could exploit but the nrl need to curb this merry-go-round of player movements to rebuild its tribal cultural roots.

      • July 4th 2017 @ 8:29am
        E-Meter said | July 4th 2017 @ 8:29am | ! Report

        I’m with you on this. I’d take it a step further though. Players that reach 10 years service with the same club are completely excluded from the cap.

        You wonder why crowds are down and continue to trend down. I reckon player loyalty is part of it. I’m not blaming the players at all. They have a short time in the game and need to maximise their employment. It’s not that far fetched to see some players go through 3 clubs in 4-5 seasons.

        • July 4th 2017 @ 2:19pm
          Griffo said | July 4th 2017 @ 2:19pm | ! Report

          Love it. No cap Thurston and Scott for us next year. Time to buy big. Also Taumalolo won’t be in the cap from 2020. That’s 8 cap free years! Morgan would be outside the cap from 2020 as well. I reckon I like this idea.

        • July 4th 2017 @ 11:04pm
          peeeko said | July 4th 2017 @ 11:04pm | ! Report

          yeah, teams will stay perpetually good and we will have a lopsided comp. that will be great for crowds

    • July 4th 2017 @ 7:45am
      bear54 said | July 4th 2017 @ 7:45am | ! Report

      As one who can’t stand seeing Mitchell Pearce in a Blues jersey I’ve always admired him getting away from his fathers shadow at the Tigers and creating his own legacy with the Roosters. What about the son’s of former Newtown or North Sydney greats? They would receive no special dispensation through just plain bad luck??

      Who cares about what their fathers or grandfathers did? These players should be judged on their own merits and achieve all they can in their own name.

      • Roar Guru

        July 4th 2017 @ 10:29am
        JamesH said | July 4th 2017 @ 10:29am | ! Report

        They still can, bear. They don’t have to go to their father’s club and they can always seek a trade later even if they do.

      • July 4th 2017 @ 11:04pm
        jeff dustby said | July 4th 2017 @ 11:04pm | ! Report

        roosters gave him massive dollars as a kid, good on him for chasing the money. why would he want to go to the tigers?

    • Roar Guru

      July 4th 2017 @ 7:57am
      Magnus M. Østergaard said | July 4th 2017 @ 7:57am | ! Report

      Why would Tristan play at the Dragons and not the Broncos. Why would Kyle Flanagan be playing for a club his father never played for? Paul Carter doesnt play for anyone.

      More to the point outside of because the AFL does it, so we should do it too is this needed? Other than ‘Oh but its so poetic that a son can play for the team his daddy did’ I really dont see the point of it.

    • Roar Rookie

      July 4th 2017 @ 8:09am
      Hard Yards said | July 4th 2017 @ 8:09am | ! Report

      The Good Old Boys (or Good Old Boofheads) Club has been wrecking the potential of the game as a product for years.

      Many people will be laughing when you mentioned the name of Fulton at the top of your article. His sons got starts in first grade – one while Bozo was coach ! – at the Eagles when they probably would have picked up the job of mascot at other clubs. Of course, his sons are employed by the Club today ( I don’t know if his daughter has been re-employed after Tim Cleary terminated her while he was CEO and before Bozo got rid of him) and Bozo himself is employed at the club as the resident Fukushima nuclear plant. Coincidence? You be the judge.

      There’s too many old blokes lodged in the intestines of the game like tapeworms, sucking away at the nutrients while well past their use by dates. How many of them would get an interview if they sent a resume out to to real world?

      This might sound a bit left field, but I’ll run it up the flag pole.: maybe not nepotism, but what about merit ? Just a thought.

      • July 5th 2017 @ 1:25pm
        Wayne Turner said | July 5th 2017 @ 1:25pm | ! Report

        Spot on – This is a terrible article and terrible idea. Sounds like the “inbred rule”.

        Merit is better reasons players make it,than who they are related too.There is enough problems with the NRL being “inbred” without making it a rule ie: Matt Gidley played for Newcastle Knights,and now their hopelessly terrible CEO.

        This article misses the point,that many players,who had famous fathers as players,play better away from the club their father played at egs: Wayne Pearce – Better to be out of his father’s shadow,by playing for the Roosters and NOT Tigers.Nathan Cleary. Curtis Sirro – Only playing better away from the shadow of his father.

        Eric Grothe Jr – Was always in the shadow if his father when at Parramatta.

        Yes,there are exceptions,but only exceptions,like the Morris twins being great playing for one of the clubs their dad played for – the Dragons.

        Rugby League has enough and too many problems with it being “inbred” – Whether being related to a previous player,or getting into high level coaching because you were a to level player – Coaching and playing are two totally different skills egs: Yet known failures of coaches in Ricky Stuart (Back at the club he mainly played for) still have a head coaching job,and Stephen Kearney – Both dud coaches.

        Having a rule to promote it is terrible.Merit based is whats needed… At all levels.

    • July 4th 2017 @ 8:46am
      Lachlan Jeffery said | July 4th 2017 @ 8:46am | ! Report

      Wayne Pearce played for Balmain, a team that no longer exists in its original form. Paul Carter has been sacked by several different clubs and Nathan Cleary was signed by the Panthers when his father was coaching there

      • Roar Guru

        July 4th 2017 @ 9:02am
        BigJ said | July 4th 2017 @ 9:02am | ! Report

        Exactly it is just old school political bull$##!