Hit list to replace stood-down stars runs thin
ST George Illawarra and Manly will face tremendous challenges to replace Jack de Belin and Dylan Walker if the pair are stood down from playing this week.
The ARL Commission will meet on Thursday where it is poised to rubber stamp a plan to stand down any player facing serious criminal charges.
As part of the move, clubs will be offered salary cap relief to the amount of the player's contract.
But with a little more than two weeks before the NRL season kicks off, the ability of the Dragons and Sea Eagles to find available players of similar on-field standing to de Belin and Walker will be difficult.
Walker is due in court on Tuesday to face assault charges from an alleged domestic incident involving his partner, while de Belin has pleaded not guilty to the aggravated sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman in Wollongong last year.
The likes of Brad Takairangi, Sam Kasiano, Ava Seumanufagai, Sam McKendry, Ethan Lowe, Jason Bukuya, Patrick Kaufusi, Josh Dugan, Kurt Capewell, Chris McQueen and Lloyd Perrett will come into the frame if the pair are stood down. But, with the exception of Dugan, they don't have the same representative pedigree.
That will form part of clubs' response to the NRL's latest initiative, specifically that while salary cap compensation sounds appealing, the availability of playing talent remains a concern.
NRL clubs have been left confused and were on Tuesday night asking five key questions:
- Does the compensation have to be spent the same year as the player was suspended or can it be transferred to another season?
- What happens to the player signed short term if the sidelined player is permitted to return?
- Will clubs have to find additional money from their budget to sign the new player given the player stood down would remain on full pay?
- Will the new player expect a long-term deal given clubs would have already settled their salary cap for the following two to three years?
- What quality players - at least the equal of de Belin and Walker - would be available just three weeks before the start of the season?
One senior club official described the situation as a "minefield."
Clubs want to know whether they would be told to spend the money immediately or have permission to stockpile it for a big name the following year.
"We would want to know whether we can spend it the following season if we can't utilise it this season," said one NRL club official. "You don't want to just go out and there and say: "There's a player, let's give him 'x amount' because we have the money.
"Certainly from our club's perspective, we want to hold it and wait for the right person to come along. There can't be a time limit on the money. If they did put a limit on it, it would be like giving us a ticket we can't use."
Most clubs have started working on - if not finalised - their salary caps for 2020 and 2021.
Another official said: "What about a player who agrees to come but then wants to sign for another year or two? Who knows by then though whether the player stood down may be available to return and the salary cap for the following year would more than likely be finalised."
Clubs were also concerned they would have to pay the stood down player along with outlaying anther chunk of money on the new player - stretching financial resources.
"You'd have to find some big money to pay the new recruit outside of your budget. The club wouldn't have budgeted on another $200,000, $300,000 or $400,000 outside the cap," said the official.
The Dragons privately feel de Belin needs training, footy and his teammates for his mental wellbeing to cope with the pressure of the charges. Speculation continues in rugby league that de Belin's legal team has compelling evidence supporting their client.