I think it is fair to say the 2017 NRL season has been hijacked by shock announcements of players swapping teams mid-season and new signings for 2018. This season has been messy as countless players have shuffled teams while leaving fans wondering if the players they love and support will still be there next season or even the next week.
Some of the more high profile announcements have been a massive blow to many loyal club supporters. Mitchell Moses, Kalyn Ponga, Cooper Cronk, James Tedesco, Kieran Foran and Ben Matulino have all confirmed that they will be moving clubs next year – many who have been devoted to their clubs for years.
I believe the lack of club loyalty is destroying the connection fans have with a club. NRL clubs are slowly becoming more of a commercial enterprise, instead of a team filled with passionate, loyal players who fans know and love to watch week in and week out. These days, fans support the club in terms of the jersey and the colours instead of the team because each season there is always a new selection of players.
One aspect of the NRL that definitely needs to be looked at is the mid-season player transitions which has taken place far more than it should have this season.
There’s something off-putting about watching a game when you know one of the players will be transferring into the opposition team next week – or watching a player slam into men who were team-mates the previous round.
Watching James Tedesco battle it out in round 14 against his future team for the next four years put a damper on the game as Tigers fans knew Tedesco had no pride or loyalty for the orange and black jersey he was wearing.
Round 20 will be equally hard for die-hard West Tigers fans to watch as their beloved five-eighth Mitchell Moses will be repping a blue and yellow jersey for his new team the Parramatta Eels.
The shuffling of players throughout the season and the non-stop talk of new signings is over-shadowing the current competition and in my opinion is ruining what we all love about our great game – which is passionate players giving their all to represent their club with pride.
How can players give their everything for a team when that so-called team is changing by the week? With the way tradings and shuffling of players has gone this season, it’s as though these men are now playing for themselves as a “brand’ of some sort so that they are desirable to clubs looking to offer them their next big pay check instead of for the love of their team and club.
Although it is easy to get frustrated about how the game is changing, we can’t blame these players for taking advantage of what is on offer. The only way the NRL is going to bring club loyalty back into the game is by rewarding players who do stay loyal to their clubs.
Despite the respect and the name players can make for themselves by having a one club career, there aren’t any other advantages or reasons for a player to aspire to do so.
Shaun Johnson is an example of a player who plays for his club and not the money. Johnson is one of the best playmakers in the competition and has been chased by australian teams for years – with offers which I’m sure would have been very hard to turn down. Over the years, Johnson has made it very clear he wants to be a one-club man and to hopefully be apart of the Warriors team who finally claim a premiership.
This past week it seems as though the temptation has become too much for the loyal half-back as he has confirmed rumours he has been speaking with a number of clubs about the prospect of signing with them.
Johnson says he is weighing up his aspiration to be a one-club career man with his desire to win a premiership – which could be more of a possibility if he moves to an Australian club.
“They’re (Warriors) putting the pieces of the puzzle in the right spots to create something, not just for one year but for multiple years and I want to be apart of all that. But the other side of that is, if that success doesn’t happen, am I going my career without winning a comp?”
This is exactly the reason why players need a motive to stay at one club. One-club career players add a lot to the NRL and the reputation of the club they stay with so it is only fair they get some type of bonus.
The NRL could easily bring back the passion and loyalty to the game by introducing a simple bonus to players for staying with the same club for a long period of time.