Sam Burgess is back in the NRL.
Sam Burgess is back in the NRL. Getty Images Sport - Cameron Spencer

'Horse trading' not a good look for our game

REGARDLESS of which club we support, having Sam Burgess back in the NRL in 2016 is a tantalising attraction.

And the NRL deserves applause for making the big bloke welcome on his return from his rugby sabbatical.

Obviously the procrastination involving Israel Folau four years ago was a valuable lesson learned.

But while the game will profit from the return of Burgess, his arrival has precipitated an unsavoury series of events.

Some call it opportunism, while others refer to the practice as horse trading.

But the bottom line is that contracted players being told to find new clubs when pre-season training has already started is something foreign to rugby league, and an unpalatable activity for fans.

From the moment Burgess was linked to a return to the Rabbitohs, it became apparent room would need to be found in their salary cap.

And lots of room too, if the rumoured $1.5 million a season for big Sam is on the money.

Although both are reportedly happy in their respective new surroundings, Chris McQueen (Titans) and Dylan Walker (Sea Eagles) became the fall guys.

Because they were contracted, McQueen and Walker could have stood on their digs and stayed at Redfern, but being publicly rejected is never an ingredient for a blissful relationship.

And the movement at Souths had consequences elsewhere. To accommodate Walker the Sea Eagles released Peter Hiku, who subsequently signed with the Panthers.

A similar domino effect occurred as a result of a contract dispute between the Eels and Will Hopoate.

The end result was that Hopoate was released, and joined the Bulldogs. To make room for Hopoate, the Dogs offloaded Tim Lafai, who then signed with the Dragons.

But the most unsettling off-season contractual kerfuffle involved Dally M centre of the year, James Roberts.

Using a forged signature on his Titans contract as justification, he was shopped around to various clubs before joining the Broncos.

And while his signature may well be - in the words of CEO Paul White - a stunning coup for the Broncos, the release of Dale Copley has unpleasant undertones.

On October 28, coach Wayne Bennett declared Copley would be the centre replacement for retiring captain Justin Hodges.

Less than two months later, and just a few days before Christmas, the youngster who has been on the Broncos books since he was 15, was told he was now unwanted at Red Hill.

Admittedly the NRL is big business, and quite obviously no place for the faint of heart.

But club officials making these heartless decisions on the careers of players is a poor look for a sport that craves membership, yet often alienates those same loyal fans.

And while all this horse trading has been occurring, there has not been a peep from the Rugby League Players Association.

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