Controversial changes to the NRL's player transfer deadline continue to raise serious questions, with league great Laurie Daley posing an ugly possibility around the contentious issue.
The NRL's traditional June 30 deadline for the finalisation of rosters has been pushed back to the start of August as part of a raft of contracting changes to offer flexibility to players and clubs.
'F***ING BULLSH*T': Anthony Seibold lashes out at ugly claim
'LOVE TRIANGLE': NRL star speaks for first time since messy drama
'GOT THE SH**S': NRL coach in pub scuffle with club legend
Clubs will now have until the first Monday in August to make additions to their rosters, including mid-season transfers from other teams.
The June 30 date has long formed some part of the NRL's transfer window, but it was pushed back last season to August due to the delayed season brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
That will stay in place for 2021, with the Rugby League Players' Association (RLPA) supporting the change to give more freedom to players.
It means off-contract stars could move to new clubs as late as Round 20 this season, in a situation NRL 360 co-host Paul Kent says is "open to corruption" and The Daily Telegraph's Phil Rothfield claims will spark a "mad signing frenzy" at the back end of the season.
South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds and Brisbane centre Kotoni Staggs are two high-profile players off contract at the end of 2021, that could potentially swap clubs mid-season.
The rule changes could also see players go to a rival club on a short-term deal and then return to their original team the following season.
Speaking on Sky Sports Radio on Wednesday morning, Canberra Raiders legend and former NSW Origin coach Daley says clubs could exploit the changes to try and prevent one of their rivals from winning the premiership.
Daley used the bitter feud between the Roosters and Rabbitohs as an example, with bad blood between the clubs exacerbated by the tug-of-war for the services of teen sensation, Joseph Suaalii.
Likewise, the Broncos and Storm are embroiled in a legal battle surrounding former Melbourne CEO Dave Donaghy, who was announced as Brisbane's new boss in February.
The Storm have applied to the Victorian Supreme Court for an injunction preventing Donaghy from taking up his role with the Broncos until August 1, with concerns Brisbane are looking to poach long-term Storm coach Craig Bellamy.
Daley says he could easily imagine a club exploiting the late transfer deadline by releasing a star player to another club, in an attempt to stop a bitter rival from winning the premiership.
“I love conspiracy theories. Imagine if you’re a Roosters or a South Sydney player and you can stop either-or winning the competition by releasing one of your players to go to another club. You could do it,” he said.
“I don’t think that is a good thing.
“I don’t think that would be fair. If you’ve got 28 spots on your roster and you keep two open and then you pick up two really good players going into the finals, that could be the difference between winning and losing a comp.”
With top-eight teams potentially able to sign players who would otherwise not be part of the finals series, Rothfield says he anticipates a lot of late-season business being done.
Late season 'signing frenzy' expected
“What this is going to do is start a mad signing frenzy at the back end of the season. So clubs can keep their salary cap and don’t have to fill their roster until Round 20," he said during Fox League’s Showcase season launch.
“We’ll be arguing about Cameron Smith until August. It’s a move by the RLPA. Souths, Warriors, Cowboys, Raiders are the only teams with 30-man rosters at this stage.
“A lot of clubs are holding back. I spoke to (General Manager of Football) Frank Ponissi at the Storm. Say something happens to Jahrome Hughes, he’s got $200,000 left in his cap that he can actually sign a $600,000 halfback from a club that’s out of business because it’s only paying him for the last five rounds.”
Former Melbourne Storm skipper Cameron Smith has yet to announce what his plans are for the 2021 season, but if he remains unsigned up until August, then a club could potentially secure him on a lucrative short-term deal.
The Roosters did something similar with Sonny Bill Williams when they signed the cross-code superstar from the Toronto Wolfpack for the final four games of the 2020 regular season, plus the finals series.
NRL 360 co-host Kent also poked holes in the transfer deadline changes, insisting they would greatly benefit the NRL's richest clubs.
“I don’t like it. You can sit there and pick your squad as late as August to run into the finals, that’s going to give an enormous advantage to the wealthier clubs,” Kent said.
“What about this... If (Wests Tigers coach) Michael Maguire is looking for a hooker and he says to whoever ‘come here’ and then suddenly another team goes ‘you know what, why don’t get our bloke who’s a hooker and put him down with a dodgy injury and then go and get the State of Origin hooker to come and fill his position.
“It’s so open for corruption.”
Theoretically, it will allow clubs to pick up unwanted players from other clubs later in the season in the event of injuries - that is if they haven't already filled their 30-man rosters.
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.