The only way to end NRL’s biggest headache

The NRL needs to hire the best legal minds in the country to find a foolproof way to introduce a player draft before the premiership passes the point of no return.

In recent years, the rich and smart clubs have become stronger and more dominant and the poor and simple clubs have got weaker and less competitive.

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Last weekend’s results highlighted the embarrassing plight the game now finds itself in.

Just two of the eight games were genuine contests – title contenders Penrith and South Sydney fought out a beauty on Thursday night while the Knights and Raiders, both among the struggling clubs, had a close tussle on Sunday.

The other six games were all expected to be walkovers by the bookies – and that’s the way they turned out.

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo declared at the end of last season that his organization would look into the possibility of a draft, which is used by most major US sports as well as the AFL, after the worst season of blowouts in 86 years.

But now, nearly 12 months later, nothing has been done and the game finds itself in an even greater mess.

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Some 30 years ago, the NRL attempted to bring in a draft system but it lasted less than a year, with more than 200 players launching a class action suit that saw it destroyed.

But Bernie Gross QC, who led the player revolt in 1991-92, declared last year that the draft would face a similar fate if the NRL attempted to reintroduce it now.

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“The ARL internal draft was declared as an illegal restraint of trade for the same reasons as would now doom any future attempt to introduce a draft, to failure” Gross told AAP.

“Those reasons include that in a free society you cannot treat employees as serfs by imposing a labor contracting regime which forces them to be employed by an employer they did not choose.

“Under a draft, a player wanting to work in the industry only gets one chance at finding an employer, which is determined by chance, rather than having the freedom to have their pick of 16 or so clubs.

“Any draft – internal or external – would have to be agreed to by the players union and the clubs, which is unlikely as all player agents and most players would oppose it.

“From a legal perspective, too, the 2009 Fair Work Act would be a fatal obstacle, making it illegal to threaten, organize or take action to coerce anybody to not employ a particular player.”

That is why the NRL needs to find smarter lawyers with new tactics to somehow get the draft across the line.

Otherwise, we face the same fate as the Premier League in England, where at the start of every season there are only realistically four or five of the 20 teams capable of taking the title.

What ‘saves’ the Premier League, however, is promotion and relegation, which sees as much interest in the bottom of the ladder as the top.

But Australia doesn’t have the population or player talent pool to enable promotion and relegation to be a realistic option.

As a result, we have what we are seeing now – the teams down the bottom of the ladder having little to play for and just going through the motions for a large slice of the season.

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