In an age where people are trying to improve and combine sports to create crowd pleasing super hybrid versions, I couldn’t help but attempt to combine the NBA and NRL myself. With very few common denominators, the chances of my two favourite sports becoming one are slim but it did open my eyes to one particularly glaring difference, the off-seasons.
The NBA off-season is one of excitement and intrigue for the games biggest fans. Rumours of who is going to draft who, where this superstar plans on signing, and who might be traded for who fill the headlines from July to October. For all those rumours that do eventuate there is then an influx of speculation and predictions for NBA fans to take in while they wait for the season to start again.
The NRL off season consists of very little
Most of the big name players signed with their new clubs the best part of a year ago and any big breaking news about the game tends to be of the negative variety. The NRL could learn a few things from the NBA that would not only improve the interest in the game throughout the off season, but also improve the product during the months March through September.
Players playing for contracts
The fact it took Andrew Fifita so much time to decide he is making the move and eventually negotiating the deal with the Bulldogs, only impacts his current team negatively. He can lie to himself and Sharks fans as much as he likes but for every contract meeting or deep and meaningful talk with family and managers about his future, that is time taken away from preparing for his current teams next match. If he was forced to see out this season and negotiate his next contract during the off season, NRL fans would get to see the best Andrew Fifita possible this year. This will be a guy playing for his future, not playing until he’s at his future team.
To use the NBA as an example again, there is a specific case where this theory has played out exactly. Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry has been in the NBA for 8 seasons and has been nothing more than solid. This season, at the age of 27 and in the last year of his contract, he has put up career numbers to go from a solid player to a borderline All-Star. He knew going into this season he was playing for what would be the final big pay-day of his career and boy is he going to get paid.
Would this have been the case had he signed a 4 year deal at the beginning of the season while still contracted to another team? I don’t think so.
Teams being able to negotiate based on previous season
Not only will off-season signings result in the players playing their best football, it will also ensure teams are getting the best players for their teams. The risk of signing a player who picks up a serious injury while at their old club is gone along with that of a player who dips in form. Teams will be able to sign players based on how the team played in the previous season and allow them to fill positions that require improvement.
Not only will it keep news makers employed, it would go a long way to getting more Holden Cup players employed. Who’s to say current Bulldogs U20′s props Danny Fualalo or Brock Cope don’t explode this season and be deserving first grade players next season, only to be pushed out by Fifita who’s been signed 12 months in advance? The NRL has a dream that teams develop players through the Holden Cup to then have then sign for the same club to a first grade contract, the NBA style off-season will help make that dream more of a reality.
Constant positive NRL news all year round will trump the drink-driving, ASADA and players involved in physical altercations type of news rugby league fans are accustomed to. Despite that, the NRL seems set in its ways and while they continue to make rule changes on the field, its changes off the field that could have a fat greater impact on the game. Signing contracts so early can benefit the players but what about the fans, they are what the game is about after all. This one would be for the fans, and after taking away our beloved shoulder charge giving it some consideration is the least they could do.