MICHAEL HAGAN: Magic Round swap meet, end-of-year player auction

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The NRL signings system is already a circus so why don’t we add to the theatre? 

Instead of the current flawed system where players can pretty much come and go when they please or sign deals down the track for most months of the year, make it two transfer windows – one during the season and another at the end.

Make the mid-season one at Magic Round and at the end of the year, we should have an Indian Premier League style auction where all the clubs take their cheque books in and bid for players with whatever money they have in their salary cap.

Player salaries are virtually publicised at the moment anyway with the level of scrutiny of deals in the media nowadays so why not get it all out in the open?

Make the auction an event like the AFL draft, the highest bidder wins and that’s where the player is off to.

The NRL’s broadcast partners, Fox Sports and Nine, are always looking for content – imagine how good it would be if we had an auction where all the teams can bid on whichever players are available.

Fans would love it, whenever there’s a trade window it would create so much excitement. It works in other sports, why couldn’t it work in the NRL? They want to see transparency.

Wayne Bennett

Wayne Bennett will be the first coach of the new Dolphins franchise. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

If it was in place this year for example, the 16 existing teams would have limited funds to spend but the Dolphins could come in with millions more dollars up their sleeve to splash around on their foundation roster.

Magic Round would be the perfect time to have a transfer window during the season.

All the players are talking to each other anyway about who’s going where, how much they’re all getting so make it a free-for-all in Brisbane.

Everyone packs their bags and heads to Suncorp Stadium but not all players go back to the club where they started out the season.

It has to be a mutual agreement – the club is OK for the player to go and they have a deal waiting at another team.

There’s too much pressure applied from rival teams to induce players to break contracts early. 

Penrith were well within their rights early last season when they said they wouldn’t be letting Matt Burton go to Canterbury a year before his next contract was starting and lo and behold, he ends up having a great year for them out of his usual position in the centres and leaves with a premiership ring.

Harry Grant looks on

Harry Grant (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

I’d like to see more loan deals done like we saw with Harry Grant and Paul Momirovski swapping between Melbourne and the Wests Tigers a couple of years ago. If it’s in everyone’s best interests, the teams and the players involved, why not?

The argument that players can’t just drop everything move clubs at the drop of the hat is overblown. There are people flying in and out for work all over the place in everyday life, so I think that argument is null and void.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Kalyn Ponga meeting the Dolphins and whether they should be allowed to discuss switching teams in the middle of the season.

The players and managers are always going to push the envelope with the NRL’s system and I think fans are fed up.

Some people are saying Ponga’s not worth a million-plus or whatever number has been bandied about but he’s worth whatever a club thinks he’s worth.

Under the current rules, Wayne Bennett and the Dolphins are entitled to have that conversation. What annoys me is when players who are contracted for a few years are sounded out, usually in the media, by another club.

If it’s an agreed contract, the mechanism is you can’t contact a player until 12 months before the end of the deal. The NRL needs to be stronger on the rules of engagement. The NRL is not applying the rules about tampering.

Fireworks in Suncorp Stadium

Magic Round at Suncorp Stadium. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

The constant shopping around of players by their managers is an issue that needs to be addressed once and for all and that’s why I reckon a trade window mid-season and an auction at the end of the year is the way to go.

With Redcliffe coming into the competition next year, I reckon for the marquee players in the NRL it’s led to about a 15-20% jump in their asking price because they can say there’s a new team out there looking for talent. Pretty much all of them have stayed put, we saw that with Harry Grant and Jahrome Hughes at Melbourne last week extending their deals.

If you pay players twice what they’re on, it doesn’t mean you will get twice the value. I remember when I was coaching the Knights around 20 years ago and we had based our success around being a development club. We had a young forward with potential who still hadn’t played first grade and we offered him a deal. 

A Sydney club came to him and offered him 10 times that amount and I said to him, good luck, we can’t compete with that. They were only relatively small numbers but some teams build their team by investing in their juniors and others wait for players to come on the market and use their wealth to strengthen their roster.

Another player we had a few years later was on decent money at the time but he was offered double that amount because another club thought he could play a more important position and I just said the same thing to him. We’re not going to compete with that so we wish you all the best.

Clubs need to be protected to help them retain players. They should be allowed to re-sign any of their existing players year-round, they should be able to quarantine their six players on development deals from being poached and they should always have last right of refusal when negotiations are being held by a player with another team. 

We’ve still got a development system at most clubs and it’s not a fair landscape at the moment when they spend so much money producing those players but they are constantly looking over their shoulders that another club will come in with a bigger chequebook to poach their best young talent.

If there were transfer windows in place, the clubs would still have the opportunity to lock away the talent they want and if they can’t get a deal done, then the players can jump ship at Magic Round or take their chances at the auction at the end of the year.

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