Fans lose faith as NRL loyalty frustrations grow
Bringing back more loyalty into rugby league may sound like a tremendous idea in principle.
But the push to stop players breaking contracts so they can take up more lucrative offers at rival clubs appears to be on a collision course with the Rugby League Players' Association.
The issue came to a head at Wednesday's ARL Commission meeting when chief executive Andrew Abdo was charged with coming up with a solution to stop the rot.
But while ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys is leading the fight for fed up fans who have had a gutful of the lack of integrity surrounding contracts, the players' union see it as a clear restraint of trade.
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Not only that, the other problem for the NRL is that the clubs are equally at fault of pushing out contracted players when it suits their purposes.
But the growing lack of faith among fans hasn't been helped by a series of controversial deals in recent months, the latest highlighted by Jason Saab's switch from St George Illawarra to Manly.
While Saab sought a release for mental welfare issues, it is also speculated he will get a significant salary increase after being on close to minimum NRL wage at the Dragons.
It's been suggested that the easy way to stop it is by making a player such as Saab get paid the same at his new club if he does walk out on a contract early.
News Corp ran an online poll on Wednesday asking fans if players and clubs should be forced to honour the full period of any contract and a massive 92 per cent voted in favour.
But the players could counter the flip side to the Saab situation is seeing a long serving player like Josh Mansour pushed out of Penrith with time to run on his contract so the club can keep young gun Charlie Staines.
Abdo conceded the issue needs to be resolved, it's just a matter of how.
"It is clearly a priority," Abdo said.
"We don't know what the answer is yet, but we are certainly going to look at it and see what we can get done.
"I understand the frustration the fans have around how in the current situation where you can have a player try and get a better deal and not honour their contract.
"We are going to look at a range of ways we can improve that situation and then we will have to work with the RLPA and others on how we implement those reforms.
"I don't know what the answer is just yet."
But while RLPA president Clint Newton was open to discussions, he certainly didn't sound like he was about to roll over.
"At the end of the day we haven't received any information on a proposed rule change," Newton said.
"But I think you can flat out say it would have a fundamental impact on the employment of the players and it would require our agreement as outlined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement."
In fairness to the players, the clubs are hardly the innocent victims in all this.
Newton didn't want to pre-empt what might eventuate in the coming months, but you don't need to be Nostradamus to see where this is heading.
"I'm not privy to all the details of Saab's matter," Newton added.
"(But) matters like this are more complex than they might appear and such a significant change needs to be properly considered with all the relevant information, including the benefits and consequences because it directly impacts the players.
"We will always demonstrate a willingness to work with the NRL and clubs on issues that would improve the premiership.
"But something of that nature would fundamentally impact the employment of the players."
Originally published as Fans lose faith as NRL loyalty frustrations grow