When is a contract not a contract?

League Express editor Martyn Sadler considers the tricky issue of player contracts in an expanded version of an article that first appeared in Monday’s edition of the newspaper.


Currently there’s a lot of publicity about players walking out on Rugby League contracts.

Chris Sandow walked out on his contract at Warrington, and the Wolves shrugged their shoulders and accepted the situation.

Denny Solomona has apparently tried to walk out on his contract at Castleford because he wants to join Sale Sharks to play rugby union, but the Tigers are threatening to take legal action to protect their position, although they have refused to make any strong statement about Solomona’s attempted abandonment of his contract. They have adopted a softly, softly approach, it seems to me.

And then we have the case of James Segeyaro, who joined Leeds half way through the 2016 season, and was so successful that the club offered him a new two-year contract until the end of 2018, announcing in September that the new contract had been agreed.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time so far in Leeds and I’m here to win trophies with the Rhinos and play in the big games. Hopefully, we can have a strong finish to this season and I’m really excited about 2017,” said Segeyaro in September.

However, he is now in Australia and he seems much less excited about the 2017 season with Leeds. He is due back in Leeds in early January, but now it seems he is so turned off the idea that he has said he isn’t going to come back at all.

Last week the Rhinos put out a press release saying that there was no truth it the rumours that their hooker wouldn’t return. But then he was interviewed by an Australian newspaper and made it clear that he didn’t want to come back, mainly because he couldn’t adapt to life in England.

“I’m from North Queensland and I was born to go outside all the time. I fish, swim, go camping, all my childhood was outside,” he said.

“But it’s hard when it’s just you eating dinner by yourself within four walls, especially the type of person I am.”

I have some sympathy for him when he puts it like that. After all, home is where the heart is. But he did sign a contract, and Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington made it clear that he had to return to comply with the terms of that contract.

Apparently there is strong interest in signing him by the NRL Premiers Cronulla, but Hetherington has put his foot down.

“Interest in him from other NRL clubs has been reported but they know he is not for sale. However, I have no doubt this has become a key issue,” said the Leeds chief executive.

“The integrity of our game is now on the line and I hope to have further discussions with senior officials from the RFL and NRL at the earliest opportunity.”

Unfortunately if a player like Segeyaro doesn’t fancy the idea of playing in Super League, it’s difficult to force him to do so. And if a player wants to bring a contract to an early end, his agent should negotiate a provision in the contract that allows that to happen.

And a club should negotiate into the terms of a contract what should happen in the event of a player wanting to pull out early, which could involve, for example, the payment of a capital sum by the player to bring the contract to an end.

None of that seems to have been present in Segeyaro’s case, nor in the case of Denny Solomona.

The idea that a player should be able to break his contract unilaterally in order to secure a contract with a rugby union club is unacceptable. The RFL needs to agree a protocol with the rugby union authorities to ensure that it can’t happen.

I believe that RFL chief executive Nigel Wood has been trying to secure such an agreement with his counterparts in rugby union, but has so far failed to achieve his aim.

The RFL has this week issued a statement that seems to be acknowledging the problem but isn’t solving it.

“The RFL is extremely disappointed to learn that properly contracted Super League players may not be fulfilling the terms of their employment with Super League clubs as agreed,” said the statement.

“Contracts are two way commitments mutually binding on both parties. The RFL will support its member clubs absolutely to defend their contractual positions and will work with other similarly inclined governing bodies to ensure that the unacceptable potential anarchy of lawful contracts simply being walked away from is not tolerated.”

The real problem for the RFL is how to deal with other “governing bodies” that are not “similarly inclined.

Perhaps we need the threat of legal action to bring them to their senses.


Martyn Sadler writes his weekly column, Talking Rugby League, every Monday in League Express