Football has its transfer windows. Super League has an anti-tampering deadline. This year that date has now passed, and we’re seeing moves for next year and beyond being announced.
It’s always strange that when you have such a date set in stone, that once you move beyond it players get signed up so quickly. You wonder how well it gets policed, really. If they’re going to stick with it, and I’m personally not sure it is the best way to go about things, then it has got to be stringently monitored.
Most importantly, though, it has to be fair for everyone involved. With that in mind, the mid-season deadline will be an issue for teams ahead of the return of promotion and relegation.
How can a side who is not sure what division it might be in for the next season look to recruit in May, June and July? There is a situation of the unknown for them, so trying to build a team becomes tougher, more of a risk.
Leigh, for instance, are the side leading the way in the Championship currently. Let us say the new system was in place, so they had put together a list of five or six players that they want to talk to with regards for the following season. The problem is, those they’ve targeted may want to have the certainty of Super League for the following year. Do they then wait until their promotion is confirmed, risking the possibility of someone already in the top tier signing that player they targeted instead?
It’s a tricky one for clubs, and one I wouldn’t relish having to deal with. But that is just where our game is at the moment.
The importance for any player is taking care of the future, for both themselves and their family. You want to do that as quickly as you can, and the more long-term security the better. If you are getting offered a three-year deal in the middle of the summer, you take it.
I know the fans don’t like seeing their players announcing that they will be moving on elsewhere midway through a season. That’s the nature of the beast, really. You can’t hold it against a player for doing what is best for them.
Of course, it all blows over eventually (or someone else announces they’re leaving too, so the focus turns to them instead!) but it is difficult for all concerned, club, player and spectators, when it is initially confirmed someone is leaving for pastures new.
It has to be remembered that a season starts for a player not in February but the previous November, with winter training. A player gives it their all for the cause, not just on the pitch. Everybody in rugby league is an ultimate professional – you may keep an eye on how your future employer is doing for the rest of the year, but you don’t hold back. Not even when you come up against them. No one takes it easy, in fact quite the opposite.
It affects players in different ways, too – some don’t handle the negotiations that well, and they take those concerns out with them onto the field. Others, in contrast, find it a weight lifted off their shoulders and their form improves as a result.
I’m not sure how the RFL could deal with the situation any other way, but it’s certainly not great for the fans. I am a fan of the game, and I don’t like the mid-season recruitment drive that goes on. But I've been in that situation as a player, and each man has to take care of himself.
It cannot really be compared to the transfer window in football at the top level, because the sums of money being talked about our vastly different. And that is not just in terms of paying wages, it is also to do with the resources available to a club and the people on hand to help with any switch.
If you wait until the end of the season to allow players to sign contracts, you shorten the period available to sort out everything away from the club. It is tough to ask anyone to pack up, find somewhere new to live and settle your family in the space of a few weeks, particularly after just finishing a gruelling campaign.
Speaking from personal experience, when it was just me and the wife it was about getting the best deal possible, which normally meant the longest one on offer. Now, of course, I've a young family to think about. Having a child can't help but change your priorities.
To move onto a new place is not easy, but there is an excitement to it. As the years have gone by, I’ve become more and more relaxed during the process. You have agents involved that take care of a lot of it, and if you have a good one of those in your corner, and they know what you want, things can move along pretty quickly.
Sometimes in a dressing room players are open about their futures, other times not so much. Some will deny things to your face, but it is each to their own. More often than not, though, the rumours often end up becoming reality.
If you’ve got a good senior group of players then they can be just as crucial in keeping someone around. Leeds, for example, have been excellent at building a core unit and keeping them together.
It’s a funny old system. We just have to do the best we can and have as little disruption to the product on the field as possible.
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