Rugby League

COMMENT

Joe Tapine saga highlights need for urgent think tank to fix NRL 'meat market'

Joseph Tapine now knows how Justin Hodges felt in 2001. The Broncos centre had played just 17 NRL games before he was banished to reserve grade by coach Wayne Bennett for the rest of the season after he signed with the Roosters.

Tapine has been given the same treatment by Newcastle after he signed with Canberra from 2017 onward, training away from the rest of the Knights squad and unlikely to play NRL this year if he stays.

Joseph Tapine may be forced to play 2016 in reserve grade for Newcastle after signing with the Raiders from 2017.
Joseph Tapine may be forced to play 2016 in reserve grade for Newcastle after signing with the Raiders from 2017. Photo: Getty Images

While an early release so Tapine can join Canberra this year could still happen, the saga has again highlighted how the game's erratic and confusing player transfer system needs an urgent overhaul.

Canberra has deliberately stayed well clear of the situation, leaving it to the Knights and Tapine's management to resolve.

But make no mistake, the Raiders feel it could have been handled better, as do the Rugby League Player's Association.

Anthony Milford signed with Brisbane before playing out his final season at Canberra in 2014. The Raiders were disappointed but kept picking him for first grade.

Advertisement

The Roosters did likewise last year when James Maloney and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck announced they had signed with rival clubs.

Obviously the three players mentioned have achieved far more in the game than Tapine, who has played just 20 NRL games and been signed by Canberra for four years based on an educated punt on his potential.

Anthony Milford completed his contract after signing with the Broncos.
Anthony Milford completed his contract after signing with the Broncos.  Photo: Melissa Adams

But put bluntly, there shouldn't be the potential for players to find themselves in a Tapine-like situation just two weeks from kick-off. It's unfair on the player, it's unfair on the fans and there needs to be stricter guidelines in place to clean it up.

Watching Milford carve up opposition for Canberra in 2014 was like kissing your sister for Raiders fans. Every piece of brilliance he constructed was applauded, before the realisation set in a rival club was about to benefit.

There was no questioning his dedication to Canberra through that season, but there will always be the perception from supporters that players in that position are not fully dedicated to the cause.

It's a situation that doesn't exist in the AFL. The code has a trade period of around three weeks shortly after the season finishes, rookie and pre-season draft and the national draft.

In 2012, they also introduced free agency which gives long-serving players more flexibility in which club they play at.

The system not only gives players and fans certainty of what times there can be player movement, it also ensures there's meaningful AFL news during the off-season.

Transfer windows have been mooted, including by Raiders recruitment boss Peter Mulholland in The Canberra Times last month.

"I think there should be a transfer window," Mulholland said. "It's a wonderful idea to keep it out of the pre-season, it should all be done and dusted well and truly before January.

"There is an opportunity for that in the game and it would make it more media friendly as well, it's something they [NRL] could market.

"It's something they should be looking at and it does stop the meat market. I'd probably look at holding it from late October until the middle of November, when everyone's back on deck."

However, as Fairfax colleague Brad Walter pointed out around this time last year, it would leave NRL clubs vulnerable to poaching by other codes, and other transfer windows would need to be put in place intermittently throughout the year.

It's naive to think player managers won't negotiate with other clubs outside transfer window periods if they're put in place.

But at least it won't be a soap opera played out in the media for months, when all the players and fans want to do is focus on the season at hand.

Scrapping the round 13 rule after the Daly Cherry-Evans circus and replacing it with a 10-day cooling off period is a good start.

After the halfback reneged on his deal with Gold Coast to stay at Manly, Raiders fans were concerned the Titans would throw more money at Aidan Sezer and stop him joining Canberra.

Sezer never wavered once on his decision, but it prompted speculation that should not exist in the first place.

No option is perfect, but for mine, adopting soccer's system of a two or three transfer windows each year has appeal.

Whatever the NRL decides on, it should ensure we don't have a Tapine situation again where a player is unsure what colour jersey he'll be wearing just two weeks from season kick-off.