Rugby League Expert & Columnist
Brian Carney on Super League recruitment and its difficulties
Last Updated: 10/07/18 2:31pm
In the wake of Warrington's high-profile capture of Blake Austin, Brian Carney looks at the difficulties of the recruitment process facing all of Super League's clubs.
Maurice Lindsay, one of the most charismatic chief executives the game has ever seen, once said of recruitment: 'Write down the team you want, then go for it.'
Maurice understood show business. Maurice understood that to win trophies and put bums on seats, you needed to put a team together that was both capable of winning games and filling stadia. Sometimes the two do not go hand in hand.
I want to talk about the issues that arise in recruitment and the various conflicts that recruitment can throw up within an organisation…
The owner of a club may have a wishlist that he writes out and tells the chief executive to deliver upon. But sometimes only then do the problems start.
If finances are no problem and you can go out and get the players, you still have to be careful, because you may end up with 13 stars, but no team.
The players that you recruit have got to be of the character that will benefit your organisation, and you won't know that by just watching them on TV and eulogising about their on-field efforts.
When the list falls into the hands of the chief executive, he's then got to do his due diligence. He must ask questions about the player, find people he trusts and ask about the player's character. That in itself, is far more difficult than it sounds.
Going to a player's previous club and asking for an endorsement is fraught with danger. Perhaps that club want him off their books and will give him a glowing reference to speed up any impending departure.
Any players that you ask for character references from may not give one for entirely honourable reasons. Helping a mate out wouldn't be unheard of either as a reason for saying: 'Yes, go ahead, this guy's a great bloke.'
The chief executive, having done all that, must then go back and tell his owner who he thinks they should and should not go for. And when they settle on that - if they haven't already done so - they must bring the coach in on the conversation.
At some clubs, the coach will be involved from the get-go, a la Tim Sheens at Hull KR. But what the coach wants and what the owner wants can sometimes be at odds with each other.
The great Bill Belichick of New England Patriots in NFL - in a philosophy copied no doubt by Craig Bellamy at the Melbourne Storm - says: 'I only want to coach guys I like.'
In some Super League clubs, the coach may have a guy they don't like foisted upon them. And it goes without saying, that you can see problems coming down the line when that approach is adopted.
It's not an easy thing to do. I've found myself saying what fans across the league say: 'Why don't they go out and buy a half-back? They need a full-back, surely they can see that? Why don't they get a new hooker?'
They are throwaway lines, but I have no doubt they frustrate the hell out of the people who actually do the recruitment, because they know how difficult it is.
And then there's another demon clubs have to deal with, the salary cap.
While some have their spending curtailed by it, others can't get near it or choose not to.
I have long argued against the salary cap, only because I haven't been convinced that it works in Super League.
I have said it before, I'll say it again - trust the financial prudence of the men wealthy enough to own the clubs.
This is not a situation I believe is going to change, but I would applaud any flexibility and allowances introduced, like the marquee player ruling that let St Helens bring the world class ability of Ben Barba to Super League.
If Eamonn McManus and the Saints can put the financial package together to let him entertain us, it would be sinful to stop it.
I'd rather watch Ben Barba than Joe Average who manages to keep a club well under the salary cap.
A final line on the salary cap - I'd like to see the clubs' spend publically published.
I'd like to see the clubs that are spending £1.5m when a spend of closer to £2.2m is available to them.
Perhaps critiques of their on-field performances would be fairer if that was known.
In fact, in a salary cap sport, knowing the financial remuneration of the players would make assessment of performances far more objective. I'll give you an example…
If the Leeds Rhinos take the field with 60 per cent of their salary cap spend unavailable and lose a game to Hull FC, who have 90 per cent of their salary cap on the field, isn't that a fairer light in which to view the Rhinos' performance? It's a more objective assessment for sure.
Let's say the finances have been accumulated, the target identified and you go after the player. Then you suddenly find the middle man coming to the fore: the player's agent.
You'll be told you're not the only one in the race, that he's really keen to come to your club but he just has to hear a couple more offers from a few different places. Everything goes on hold for you.
The smart clubs chase more than one player for a position at one time, knowing that there is a huge chance they will be let down at the very last minute despite all promises to the contrary.
Some clubs have very strict budgets simply because the money isn't there. Others are a more moveable feast, they have plenty of money and are willing to spend it, but want to spend it wisely.
If at the last minute they get forced to increase the amount they were willing to offer, they can do that, unhappy as they may be. But for other clubs, it means weeks and months of chasing and promising and planning have all gone down the tube.
Such is the nature of the beast, it's worth bearing in mind that the next time you mutter to yourself: 'We need a half-back, hooker or full-back', it's not that easy a job and nobody has a 100 per cent success rate.
Warrington are a great example. They've gone out this week and signed a superb player in Blake Austin, but that is to replace a marquee player who has certainly not lived up to that title in Tyrone Roberts.
Perhaps as Warrington fight on two fronts for trophies, the undoubted class of Roberts will come to the fore. I hope so, and I hope he ends his stay on a positive note.
But it just goes to show that even if you have the money, you do your research and you've got the signature, there is no guarantee of success. And the Wolves have got lucky here too.
There are a host of Super League clubs who have and will find themselves stuck with a marquee player who has not lived up to expectations, on big money, for the duration of their contract.
But you have to keep going, you have to keep trying. The competition needs clubs that are willing to go out and spend money to bring stars to these shores.
And not just to win trophies, but to put bums on seats.