The NRL doesn’t need a draft. Clubs need to get better at developing talents and managing their salary caps.
When it comes to success there are two options: the Penrith route of developing juniors and keeping the group together, or the Melbourne model of ‘Moneyball’ recruitment coupled with superstar forecasting.
And by ‘Moneyball’, I mean investing in the Bryan Norries, Nicho Hyneses and Jahrome Hugheses of the world, not that make-believe stuff St George Illawarra has been pushing through the media.
In the words of NRL boss Andrew Abdo, “A draft is a great way to distribute young talent”.
In the words of one NRL recruitment manager, “It’s too early to say without the details of how the club responsible for developing the player will be compensated.”
Another said, “It’s a great idea.”
And one player agent met the idea with, “Meh.”
The rookie draft concept floated by the NRL CEO has received a mixed response. And that’s understandable with so many questions unanswered.
“It’s been used successfully in other sporting codes,” Abdo declared in the Daily Telegraph this week.
“The commission will always consider any element or tool at its disposal to create an exciting competition because we’re in the sports entertainment business.
“There are technical reasons why a draft hasn’t been implemented in the NRL and we need to work through those.”
Abdo’s comments follow a season of epic blowout scores. There’s a thought that a rookie draft will assist the weaker clubs climb up the ladder.
But according to one player agent, a draft won’t help even up the competition.
“The biggest reason is top clubs recruit better and use the cap better,” the agent said. “Not paying overs for players and players willing to go to be in those systems when contract values are close by.”
Another said, “Teams already have countless opportunities to identify young talent. Some are good at it and some aren’t. The struggling clubs need to bring in people who are better at it.”
The latter agent has a point.
Cronulla splashed some serious cash to lure Nicho Hynes from Melbourne but when the Storm first identified him, he was just another kid playing Queensland Cup.
When the Storm landed Brandon Smith, he was playing 20s for the Cowboys and deemed by some as too small and not a great passer to play hooker. How wrong those so-called experts were.
Remember when the Storm plucked Jahrome Hughes from North Queensland? He was a utility on the fringe and now he’s one of the game’s best playmakers.
Even recently, they’ve pulled Josh King from Newcastle. He’s a no-nonsense middle with a wonderful work ethic and rarley misses tackles. Watch him thrive under Craig Bellamy next season.
Compare that to North Queensland and Canterbury.
The Cows shelled out some serious coin to bring Chad Townsend to the club and last year, the Dogs threw big cash at Kyle Flanagan.
So will a draft really make a difference?
According to one recruitment manager, “I believe it’s the only way the bottom dwellers are going to fight their way out of the bottom.”
There’s also a thought it will save the game money. No doubt, it will generate a lot of interest from a commercial standpoint.
But what does it do it mean for clubs like Newcastle with rich junior nurseries? Would Bradman Best be playing for the Knights if a draft was in existence?
Will there be compensations for those who breed the talent? A lot of clubs are going to be against the idea.
And what about the players?
Those familiar with the NFL will be well aware of scenarios where players have refused to join the team who drafted them.
When the legendary John Elway was chosen first overall by Baltimore, he threatened to leave the sport if he wasn’t traded.
More recently, Eli Manning threatened to sit out the season if he was picked by the Chargers. History shows he was taken as the No.1 overall pick before being drafted, so we will never know if that threat would’ve been carried out.
Can you imagine Reece Walsh going first round in the draft and refusing to play for the team? It’d sure give the likes of NRL360 plenty to discuss.
Whether you’re for it, against it or indifferent, there’s a ton of work to be done in order to get a draft off the ground.
But rather than the struggling clubs banking on a draft saving their bacon, perhaps it’s time they take a better look at their own list managers and talent-identification methods.