'Mad signing frenzy': Big change leaves NRL 'open to corruption'

Andrew Reid
·4-min read
Pictured here, Melbourne Storm legend Cameron Smith celebrates with Jahrome Hughes.
The NRL's August deadline could theoretically see clubs make a move to sign stars such as Cameron Smith on a short-term deal. Pic: AAP

Two leading NRL figures have expressed concerns around the league's transfer roster deadline, with one describing the situation as "so open to corruption".

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.

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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.

However, The Daily Telegraph's Phil Rothfield says he feels it will spark a mad signing frenzy" at the back end of the season, with top-eight teams potentially able to sign players who would otherwise not be part of the finals series.

“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.

Sonny Bill Williams is seen here during his second stint with the Roosters in 2020.
Sonny Bill Williams signed a lucrative short-term deal with the Roosters at the back end of the 2020 season. Pic: Getty

Players could switch clubs as late as Round 20

It also 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 "so open to corruption".

“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.

Clubs will also be given more freedom over who they can select in teams under other agreements reached over the summer.

Development players will be able to be picked in NRL teams from round 11, where previously they couldn't be selected until after June 30.

Players from outside of each club's top 30 will also be available for selection from round 11, where previously they were barred altogether unless granted an exemption for injuries.

The change will be a significant boost for players in reserve grade, who otherwise had little light at the end of the tunnel even if they were performing well.

Clubs have been working with the new rules for some time, with a minimum of only 28 players required on their rosters from March 1, down from the previous mark of 29.

with AAP

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