While the action hots up on the pitch ahead of the anticipated new Super 8s, the ink has been drying on new contracts across the league.
This week’s biggest announcement so far is that Warrington’s Chris Bridge will join local rivals Widnes on a two-year deal for next season, having completed 10 years service with the Wolves.
Yet the 31-year-old could still play another 13 games for his current club if they go all the way in both Super League and the Challenge Cup.
Bridge, a seasoned and experienced professional, will no doubt be committed to the Wolves cause for the remainder of his contract, but the whole premise of pre-contract agreements is worthy of discussion.
It doesn’t happen too often in other sports – football has the Bosman ruling, whereby players are open to talk to and sign with foreign clubs without permission six months prior to their contract ending.
In sports such as basketball and ice hockey, players rarely if ever move for a transfer fee, instead moving around mainly in the summer at the end of their contracts – of course, benefiting from the fact that there are a considerable number of professional clubs across the world that dwarf rugby league, which barely has 30 options to choose from.
We ought to remember that players aren’t pieces of meat – they are human, and this should also be remembered when they are being treated (or rushed back) from injury.
Player welfare is becoming increasingly prominent, and knowing that they will be able to pay the bills in six months time at the end of their current contract is of course a genuine life-worry for any player.
We don’t have a transfer window as such, but players are free to talk to other clubs from May 1st – this is barely three months in to the season and some five months prior to the season’s finale at Old Trafford.
Does this put too much attention on building for next season (both from a club and player point of view) rather than concentrating on the playing squad for the current season, and even other off-field commitments, such as marketing.
And it’s only natural to be looking forward to the next step in your career.
An interesting example is that of Leeds-bound Anthony Mullally, who has just joined Wakefield on loan from Huddersfield for the rest of the season.
The Giants expressed their disappointment when it was revealed that the forward would be ditching them for the Rhinos next season, despite being offered a new deal at The John Smith’s Stadium.
He’s now been told he won’t play again for Huddersfield, which has resulted in him spending the rest of the campaign fighting for Wakefield’s Super League survival, rather than competing for his current employers against his future employers for a place in the play-offs and Grand Final.
It’s not the first time that’s happened to Mullally. He signed for Huddersfield from Widnes in similar circumstances back in 2012, and didn’t feature for the Vikings after telling them he was off. Having featured in 10 games up until the end of May, after rejecting an offer from Widnes, the only rugby Mullally played for the rest of the season was in a three-game loan spell at then Championship One side Whitehaven.
While it might not be Mullally’s fault that this has happened on both occasions, it may be that Denis Betts and now Paul Anderson have decided that their time and investment is better placed in players who are going to be part of their group for 2016.
It’s no coincidence that both of those coaches are firm believers in team spirit, Betts particularly, who has seen progress at Widnes with largely the same group of players that finished bottom of the table in 2012.
So what’s the solution? The RFL like to remind us how innovative they are, so maybe a draft-style system that would be a first for British sport.
Maybe not. But perhaps a month-long window in maybe August (which has a limited number of league games due to the Challenge Cup) where deals are done.
There’s also the new conundrum of the Super 8s – what’s interesting about Bridge’s signing to Widnes is that there’s no guarantee that the Vikings will be in Super League next season, given the new era format.
While previously, there were concerns that promoted teams had very little time to recruit to be competitive, we now have a situation where four teams every season won’t know that they’re definitely in Super League next season until September. Hardly ideal for recruitment, and supposedly a reason why the old straight promotion/relegation apparently didn’t work.
It certainly feels that May 1st is too early. Barely has the season started, and instead of talking about what’s happening on the field, we’re looking at what players may be on the move.
Now, where’s that marquee?