The Roar
The Roar


Why not a father-son rule in the NRL?

The Roosters take on the Eels in a split round of NRL action. (Action Photographics, Renee McKay)
3rd July, 2017
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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.