Current player transfer system is a ‘poor look’ for rugby league

James Gordon

The player contract system in Australia is under the spotlight again following the high profile move of Jack Wighton to South Sydney Rabbitohs.

Wighton, 30, has signed a four-year deal to move to the Rabbitohs from Canberra Raiders at the end of the current season, even though we’re only eight rounds in to the NRL season.

It has raised the issue of players signing elsewhere when they still have plenty of time left on their current deal, and more pertinently, key games to play.

A change to the current NRL system, which enables players to sign elsewhere within the final year of their contract, has been proposed as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, though it remains unsigned.

In a statement, Canberra coach Ricky Stuart said: “As a club, we believe the current contracting system where players can sign well out from the end of their current contract is flawed.

“It is not fair to you who I see as our major stakeholders, the club, and as importantly the players.

“I know it would have been hard for you, our Raiders fans, because I know what the feeling was like for me, to see an image of Jack in a Souths jersey (digitally altered) on the back page of a Sydney paper today.

“I want to reassure you all that the club did everything possible to keep Jack at the Raiders and we wanted nothing more than to see him reach 300 games and become a one-club player.”

A transfer window or even a draft?

It has been pointed out that the Raiders have made use of the system before, while there was much attention on Penrith stars Viliame Kikau and Api Koroisau who had agreed deals elsewhere long before the Panthers won the 2022 NRL Grand Final.

Introducing a transfer window outside of the season where negotiations can happen, or reducing the window players are permitted to talk to other clubs, has previously been suggested.

There have even been some suggestions, from controversial pundit Phil Gould, that a draft could be introduced to help the spread of quality players in the NRL.

In the UK, the anti-tampering deadline is May 1, enabling all players out of contract at the end of 2023 to start talking to potential new clubs. Super League clubs must inform players by that date whether they intend to offer them a new deal or not.

Journalist at Australian publication The Roar, Paul Suttor wrote: “It’s a poor look for a professional sports league to have a high-profile star like Wighton committing to another club when not even a third of the current season has been completed.”

Wighton was part of the Australia squad that won last year’s World Cup and he has made 225 appearances for the Raiders to date, as well as representing New South Wales.

He started at stand-off when the Raiders reached the 2019 NRL Grand Final, which they lost 14-8 to Sydney Roosters. Wighton won the Clive Churchill Medal for man of the match.

READ MORE: Should rugby league introduce a transfer window?