The angst felt by rugby league fans around November and December every year appears to have reached a new level in 2021.
It’s the time of the NRL off-season when players – whose contracts finish at the end of the upcoming season – can sign with a rival club for the season after and beyond.
The NRL allows this to happen from 1 November each year, and it is pretty much open slather after that date.
We see players contracted to one club for the next season openly meeting with opposition clubs, and in a number of cases, signing with them.
It is incredibly unsettling for fans.
Canberra Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson will play for the Green Machine in 2022 before heading to the Parramatta Eels for the following two seasons in 2023 and 2024.
I don’t see this example as being as bad as some of the other cases involving NRL players, given Hodgson was told by the Raiders he wouldn’t be getting the two-year deal he was seeking at the club, but it leaves fans confused none the less.
A far worse image was presented by Penrith Panthers star Viliame Kikau, who was photographed in a Canterbury Bulldogs jersey after signing with the club for the 2023 season, even though he will play for the Panthers in 2022.
Or Melbourne hooker Brandon Smith. He openly shopped himself around to rival clubs before signing with the Sydney Roosters for the 2023 season.
There are plenty of other examples of players with 12 months to go on their current deals who are fielding offers from rival clubs.
The NRL and the clubs do plenty of marketing around fan loyalty and the importance of the bond between a club and its supporters.
In essence, the expectation is to support your team no matter the results.
But it would appear that loyalty pledge isn’t always reciprocated by the system.
I don’t blame the players, although a little discretion could be applied when they are shopping around from club to club.
They are simply doing what they are allowed to do under the rules.
However, it has become a farce. There needs to be a change to the current system as it has become the expectation that this is simply what happens each off-season.
I am in favour of two trade windows where players off contract at the end of the season can sign with rival clubs – one just before 30 June, and another at the end of the season.
It would alleviate some of the pain currently experienced by fans.
The date of 30 June gives players plenty of opportunity to sort out their affairs in a similar way to any other workplace. In reality, the timeframes are a lot tighter in most Australian workplaces.
The hope is that the NRL and the Rugby League Players’ Association can take into account the impact the current situation has on footy fans.