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Time to tackle problem

Date

Lee Gaskin

Saturday Serve

Raiders enforcer Josh Papalii drives Parramatta's Jarryd Hayne into the turf in 2012. The pair will be teammates in 2014.

Raiders enforcer Josh Papalii drives Parramatta's Jarryd Hayne into the turf in 2012. The pair will be teammates in 2014. Photo: Melissa Adams

Forget shoulder charges, referee blunders and peptides - the biggest blight on rugby league is the farcical situation of players signing with clubs while still with another.

Without downplaying the significance of allegations of doping in the NRL, initial reports are those incidents are isolated and not a widespread problem.

Players switching allegiances mid-season is.

Canberra Raiders young gun Josh Papalii is the latest to be caught up in the messy saga, as the Parramatta Eels secured his services for the 2014 season and beyond on Friday night.

Let's make it clear, I don't blame Papalii or his manager for engaging in talks with a rival club for a contract beyond this season.

It's the system players have become forced to operate under, and one the NRL persists with despite constant condemnation from the game's most influential stakeholders - the fans.

Without people walking through the turnstiles, or more importantly switching on their television sets, the NRL wouldn't be the billion-dollar business it is today.

I've got no doubt players remain professional and don't drop their level of performance irrespective of where they're playing next year.

But how are fans expected to cheer for their favourite star and buy merchandise featuring their name or number knowing in 12 months' time the jersey will be redundant?

We grow up with a belief sport is a tribal beast.

You don't choose who to support, it's instead passed on to us through the generations.

You stick by your club through thick and thin, the good and the bad, no matter how dire the situation.

Raiders fans know that better than most, having endured a roller-coaster existence of making the finals one year and missing the next for the best part of a decade, and haven't won a premiership since 1994.

Football clubs pull on those heartstrings when they go on membership drives.

Campaigns thrive on emotive language, throwing around phrases such as ''belonging'' and ''culture'' with reckless abandon.

Then, in the same breath, we're to understand sport is a professional business, and your favourite player one season may be running out in a different jersey the next year.

I've got no qualms with players switching clubs. It is, after all, the way they make a living.

The vast majority of the population would do the same - leave one employer for another if there was a significant pay rise on offer.

Papalii's not the first and certainly won't be the last.

New Zealand Warriors fans would have had mixed emotions seeing James Maloney run around last year knowing he'd be lining up for the Sydney Roosters in 2013.

The players' association makes the argument its members need job security and can't be expected to end a season not knowing where they'll be the following year.

It seems to work pretty well in other sports.

AFL clubs can't technically sign rival players until the end of the season, although many have been rumoured to have all but had the ink dry before the deal has been announced.

Soccer is just as successful at keeping their movements under wraps, while the biggest issue facing rugby union in this country is the uncertainty of re-signing players before knowing how much the Australian Rugby Union will contribute.

The Brumbies are keen to lock in several of their young stars, including scrumhalf Nic White and back-rower Colby Fainga'a, but can't do it until they know what top-up amount they'll get from the game's governing body.

Perhaps a better example lies overseas.

No-one does professional sport better than the United States, where players are seen as assets and can be traded at a whim as seen at the conclusion of Friday's NBA trade deadline.

There were crazy scenes in Houston where three of their players left their arena 20 minutes before their game with the Thunder as they'd been sent packing to another team.

Not even time for a farewell game, yet Papalii and others who abide by the NRL's ludicrous rules get a farewell season. The madness continues.

Deserving winner

Common sense prevailed at the Canberra Capitals' presentation night with forward Brigitte Ardossi a deserving winner of the club's Most Valuable Player award.

The stand-out player in a disappointing season, Ardossi was in danger of being ruled ineligible for an ugly tripping incident, which resulted in her being handed a three-game suspension.

Ardossi overstepped the mark on that occasion, but once she had served her punishment that should have been the end of the story.

She's the type of tough and uncompromising player the Capitals sorely need to retain if they're to turn their fortunes around next season.

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