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NRL: The end of contracts, and of characters

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Roar Rookie
28th November, 2018
12

The past week has seen a frenzy of player movement in the NRL, which is not unusual for the modern game, but the timing of the announcements does pose a few questions.

Coming into December, squads have just completed their third or fourth week of pre-season and it’s normally a time when strong bonds are starting to form within a playing group, and coaches are beginning to get an understanding of the quality of the group they will be working with in the new year.

The first big news this week was the confirmed move of David Klemmer, affectionately known as ‘Klem’, from the Bulldogs to the Newcastle Knights. His signing was widely tipped in the media as early as October, but the official announcement this week had some commentators comparing his potential impact in Newcastle to Paul ‘The Chief’ Harragon.

I think even David Klemmer would admit that he has a long way to go to validate such a bold statement, both on and off the field.

Next, we were met with the news that long time New Zealand Warriors half-back Shaun Johnson had requested a release from the final year of his contract and he is now tipped to end up in the halves at the Cronulla Sharks.

Shaun has footwork and skills like few other rugby league stars and will likely fill a jersey that has been ably worn in the past by such household names as Brett ‘Noddy’ Kimmorley and Matty ‘Joey’s brother’ Johns.

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I don’t need to remind you that ‘Joey’s brother’ also goes by a number of different monikers made famous during his illustrious television career since he retired from the game in 2002.

Some examples include his alter-egos, former 1980s rugby league hard-man Reg Regan and gardening guru Don Kirk. There is no doubt Shaun has remarkable talent on the field, but he will need to step up his game to match the entertainment value of the men who went before him in the Shire.

Shaun Johnson runs the football.

Shaun Johnson is set to leave the Warriors (AAP Image/SNPA, Martin Hunter)

To cap off a crazy week, we woke to rumours that English pivot Gareth Widdop had come down with a bout of homesickness and craved a return to the Old Dart.

Gareth has had a very successful career in the NRL at Melbourne and the Dragons and after putting together a very consistent couple of seasons, there is no doubt – if the rumours are true – he will be a big loss to the NRL.

Gareth played some brilliant football for the team famous for the red V in a number six jersey previously worn by a number of high profile players. The ones that spring to mind immediately are Anthony ‘Choc’ Mundine and the ‘boy from Temora’, who has had his own share of media lately, Trent Barrett.

Both Dragons halves who preceded Widdop had a tendency to divide opinion, but they no doubt had more of a cult following than Widdop did within the Dragons army.

There are numerous stories like this throughout an NRL season but these ones stood out because of a common theme. Here we have three examples in the space of a week, of very good NRL players who have decided to change clubs when they are entering the prime of their careers.

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It is a stark reflection of the business that is the NRL in 2018-19. The fact is the players and clubs will move on quickly, and so will the fans.

All of the stakeholders are so accustomed to the lack of loyalty that is now a reality in the game, that these player transfers will hardly be discussed after the customary office banter has taken place.

But what is the real cost? I don’t know if you noticed in the narrative above that I wrote about men who were once truly idolised by fans – Noddy, Choc, the Chief, Joey and the kid from Temora. These players have been replaced by men known to fans only by their birth names. And the players who replace them will soon be replaced too, without much fanfare. Rugby League crowds and TV ratings are declining each year, and administrators wonder why.

Footy fans don’t give their heroes nicknames anymore and the reason for that is simple. It’s hard to settle on a hero when he probably won’t see out his current two-year deal.