Rugby League

A third of NRL deals now done 12 months before contracts expire but is that bad?

More than 25 NRL stars under contract for 2016 have been released to join rival clubs during an unprecedented off-season of player trading, so why is Joseph Tapine being treated any different.

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That's one question to arise from the stand-off between new Newcastle coach Nathan Brown and the rookie forward over his decision to sign a $2 million four-year deal with Canberra, which begins in 2017.

Surely Tapine is entitled to do the same as James Roberts, Michael Jennings, Dale Copley, Dylan Walker, Chris McQueen, Peta Hiku, Martin Taupau, Tim Lafai, Matt Ballin, Issac Luke, Tim Grant, Pauli Pauli, Joseph Paulo and Josh McCrone without the fear of consequences.

Canberra bound: Joseph Tapine.
Canberra bound: Joseph Tapine. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

Others to have switched clubs despite being under contract for this season include Adam Clydesdale, Beau Scott, Siliva Havili, Clint Gutherson, Matt White, Craig Garvey and Ash Taylor, while Sam Burgess has returned from English rugby union and Sam Tomkins, Keith Galloway, Glenn Stewart and Dave Taylor all gained releases to take up Super League offers,

Another view is that with up to a third of transfer deals now being negotiated 12 months before the player's contract is due to expire, someone was eventually going to react as Brown has done in telling Tapine he would not be considered for selection in the Knights NRL team this season.

Brown's reaction has parallels with that of Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett in 2001 after Justin Hodges signed with Sydney Roosters for the following season and was banished to the Queensland Cup for the remainder of the season.

It was suggested at the time that Bennett took the tough stance in a bid to dissuade fellow young guns Brent Tate and Corey Parker from taking up lucrative offers with Canterbury and there are claims Brown may be doing the same thing.

By sticking by his vow to Tapine that the club would not invest any more time in developing a promising young player for another club who they had bought to Newcastle from Wellington as an 18-year-old in 2013, Brown has sent a message to other young Knights players considering signing elsewhere - and not just for next season.

According to player agents and club recruitment managers, about 30 per cent of players signing with rival clubs are now doing so 12 months in advance or more.

The Raiders' signing of Tapine follows the club's loss of teenage forward Tevita Pangai - a damaging ball runner described as a bigger version of Josh Papalii - to the Broncos next season, while Manly last year signed Dylan Walker and Martin Taupau for 2017 before both were granted releases from South Sydney and Wests Tigers to make the move immediately.

Anthony Milford (Canberra to Brisbane), James Maloney (Warriors to Roosters) and Sam Burgess (South Sydney to rugby union) have all played a full season for their clubs after signing elsewhere and players have been doing so on and off for the past 20 years.

Controversy over North Sydney's signing of Adam Muir (Newcastle) and Glenn Morrison (Balmain) for the 1998 season up to 18 months earlier led to the June 30 anti-tampering rule, which was replaced in 2007 by the Round 13 rule that gave players until then to change their minds if they signed elsewhere.

After the fallout from Daly Cherry-Evans' decision to sign with Gold Coast before round one and then renege on the deal after Manly offered him a $10 million lifetime deal, the cooling-off period was altered to 10 days of a player signing for a rival club.

However, the change has done nothing to slow the number of players signing with other clubs 12 months before their contracts expire and some believe the player trading - most of which is instigated by clubs looking to restructure their rosters - should be restricted to an off-season transfer window and perhaps another mid-season.

Similar systems work in the NFL, AFL and soccer but others argue that the NRL model allows players and clubs to work out deals that suit all parties without time pressure and keeps the game in the headlines.

Newcastle officials unsuccessfully offered Tapine to the Roosters for next season but are hopeful of negotiating a deal with Canberra in which they will release him immediately in return for some form of compensation - either a transfer fee or player swap, with Pangai an obvious candidate.

The Raiders say they are not planning on Tapine joining them this season but would be able to accommodate him if he was to become available.

2016 PLAYER MERRY GO ROUND

James Roberts Titans to Broncos

Dale Copley Broncos to Roosters

Michael Jennings Roosters to Eels

Sam Burgess Bath RU to Rabbitohs

Glenn Stewart Rabbitohs to Catalans

Chris McQueen Rabbitohs to Titans

Tim Grant Rabbitohs to Tigers

Dylan Walker Rabbitohs to Sea Eagles

Martin Taupau Tigers to Sea Eagles

Matt Ballin Sea Eagles to Tigers

Peta Hiku Sea Eagles to Panthers

Clint Gutherson Sea Eagles to Eels

Will Hopoate Eels to Bulldogs

Tim Lafai Bulldogs to Dragons

Issac Luke Rabbitohs to Warriors

Siliva Havili Warriors to Dragons

Craig Carvey Dragons to Bulldogs

Joseph Paulo Eels to Sharks

Pauli Pauli Eels to Knights

Beau Scott Knights to Eels

Chris Houston Knights to Widnes

Adam Clydesdale Knights to Raiders

Josh McCrone Raiders to Dragons

Keith Galloway Tigers to Leeds

Dave Taylor Titans to Catalans

Matt White Titans to Storm

Ash Taylor Broncos to Titans

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