Time for change: Compensation rules around young players are not fit for purpose

Harry Rushton’s move to Canberra is one of the most alarming transfer deals in Super League history.

Not for the first time, Canberra raided Wigan for one of their English talents.

But there is one thing that sets this apart from their swoops for John Bateman, Ryan Sutton and George Williams.

The aforementioned trio was well-known and established by the time the Green Machine made a move. Rushton has yet to make his professional debut.

The fact Canberra are willing to take a punt on a teenager who has never played first-grade is testament to their respect for Wigan’s system and for English talent, but also just how deep they’re willing to delve into the country’s talent pool. The fact more NRL clubs are considering following in their footsteps is terrifying.

But what makes the situation that much worse is the fact Wigan won’t receive a penny for the deal.

That’s because the current rulings mean clubs won’t receive any compensation if homegrown players move to the NRL, rugby union or any other sport.

Effectively, England’s best young talent is to the NRL what an unwanted bedside cabinet is on Facebook Marketplace; free to a good home.

But what makes the entire situation even more mind-boggling is not only do the rules encourage overseas clubs and other sports to come and shop for free, they actively push players out of the game at the same time.

A prime example of that is the current case of Wakefield winger Lee Kershaw.

The youngster, a product of the club’s system, has turned down a deal with the club because the salary was only just above what a 21-year-old on minimum wage would earn working a standard 36 hours a week.

But in turning down that deal he is effectively being forced out of the sport because of the compensation on his head.

While compensation is null and void for NRL and rugby union, it’s not the same for other clubs within the RFL structure. They would have to pay £150 for every week a player has been within a club’s setup. In effect, if any club fancied taking on Lee Kershaw, and offering him a better living, they’d have to stump up around £40,000 for the privilege. Wakefield hadn’t offered Kershaw half of that figure as a salary, yet can command that sort of money.

Don’t be naive enough to think clubs don’t use that ruling to their advantage when giving contracts to their young players, either. Wakefield shouldn’t be singled out for this. It has been highlighted again and again how poor young, homegrown players are paid, but that’s because the rules ensure they can get away with it. Some have won Grand Finals earning £15,000 a year. But who can blame them when the rules are stacked in their favour in such a way?

The issue is that while Rushton and Kershaw are two very different cases, they could both end up in the same result; neither playing rugby league in this country. Though there remains hope Kershaw and Wakefield can come to a resolution on his future.

But the two cases highlight that the current rules don’t protect the clubs or the player. They are not fit for purpose.

There simply has to be a resolution that provides protection for clubs from foreign waters while also protecting players from being held captive.

The issue is finding the right balance. For the RFL to build employment laws with other countries and other sports is problematic at best, and try to convince clubs they should have to pay youngsters more when they can scoot off elsewhere on a whim should they get the opportunity to do so.

A sensible solution from the players’ side would be that clubs should have to pay them a certain percentage of the compensation fee they command. Using Kershaw as an example, if Wakefield are entitled to £40,000, they should have to pay him a salary of, say, £24,000, which is 60% of that figure. That way many players in similar situations would be paid better, and if they decided to move, then clubs are entitled to the compensation.

However, clubs will, with validation, refuse to do that when they go abroad or cross codes for nothing after such a great amount of time, and financial, investment.

It’s not an easy one to clear up, but it’s apparent the current rules are anything but efficient.