COLUMN: Central contracts are a good step forward: but should all clubs get access?

Like most things in rugby league, the issue of the Rugby Football League opting to centrally contract a select group of players is going to massively divide opinion.

First of all, I think it’s a huge step forward in regards to the plans that were approved this year relating to talent retention. Yes, the £25,000 salary bonus isn’t going to step every single player from moving to either the NRL or rugby union – and it may not have stopped some who left in the past.

But it’s a start. And from here, it seems there is at least a clear and formative plan to tackle talent retention. For Super League as a whole, that can only be a good thing.

But with details starting to emerge – not through the RFL’s fault, admittedly – about the players who are set to become centrally contracted, it has left some clubs wondering where their invites are to the party.

There has been a lack of clarity over the full criteria as to what makes a player eligible for a central contract – more on that, I’m sure, will be announced in the coming days. The RFL are right to wait until they’ve got all the players signed up before revealing in full detail what the plan is. But what we do know is that they have to be in and around England contention, and desirable to other sports and other competitions. Which seems fair enough.

There are going to be 12 initially – so one per club, right? That’s obviously why that number has been chosen?

Well, it seems not.

There is talk from some clubs in recent days – certainly clubs I’ve spoken to myself – asking where they apply for one of their star assets to be centrally contracted. And given the fair spread of talent, and even competition we’re currently seeing, it’s not an unreasonable question to ask.

Of course every club is going to think they have at least one player that belong in the central contract bracket. But the reality these days is that if push comes to shove, most clubs DO have a player in that bracket. Think of your traditionally less glamorous Super League clubs.

I’d have Jermaine McGillvary down in the same bracket as Jonny Lomax and Mike McMeeken for a multitude of reasons. And all of them are good. The same applies with Tom Johnstone. The same probably applies with Gareth O’Brien, too.

Central contracts are a massively positive step forward for Super League and for the strength of the sport in this country. Here’s hoping that all clubs get a chance to be involved in it – because it shouldn’t just be about helping the elite clubs. We’re blessed with great talent at all Super League sides these days. Let’s protect them all.

There’s been a lot of talk about kick-off times recently, and the problem – at least for the sport’s media – reared its ugly head again last weekend when Leeds played Castleford.

A great game, one of the biggest of the season so far.. but if you’d picked up a copy of your chosen national newspaper on Saturday morning, you’d have noticed that most would have carried no coverage.

The first editions of national newspapers (most, at least) go off to print so they can make it up from the printers at 10pm sharp. Leeds-Castleford didn’t finish until way after 10pm.

It’s only a small rant and, in the grand scheme of things, probably doesn’t mean that much to most people. Which is fair enough.

But in a sport which demands coverage and begs for column inches, we should be trying to be as rational with our decision-making when it comes to kick-off times as humanly possible. 7:45pm kick-offs in 2017 wouldn’t make that much of a difference to most of the general public.

To the mainstream coverage the sport may eek out at national level, it could change a lot.