Off the Wall

After months - and it seems even longer - of speculation, denials, rumours and red herrings - Johnathan Thurston is to stay with the Cowboys for another three years.

That is good news for the Cowboys, but on the day they Cowboys long wait ended happily, the Parramatta Eels learnt that two of their key players - Feleti Mateo and Krisnan Inu - have signed up to join the Auckland Warriors from 2011.

There really has to be a better way than the distractions and disruptions the current method of recruiting - and releasing - players is causing.

Today the Eels are rightly furious that  the salary cap has brought about what can only be a disruption to the team's season.

The Cowboys are surely relieved the distraction caused by almost daily speculation over Thurston's future ended yesterday. Is it any coincidence the Cowboys, without Thurston, turned in their best performance of the season within hours of it being confirmed he is staying with the team?

The full extent of just how distracting and debilitating mid-season negotiations and signings on clubs  is hard to know. But one thing is for sure - it cannot be helpful.

I have no doubt Mateo and Inu will give of their very best for the Eels in the remainder of the 2010 season...but every time they drop the ball or miss a tackle there will be Eels fans who will say - "I told you so!".

The game simply needs to find a better way to facilitate negotiations, transfers and recruitment.

That will not be easy because neither the NRL nor the clubs want a player draft. The AFL has a  draft which limits transfers outside the strict end of season draft timetable - but it only has it because there seems to be an informal agreement among the clubs (and players) not to challenge it.

The problem for the NRL is that the re-introduction of a draft, ruled invalid by the courts a couple of decades ago, could only be achieved with the unanimous support of clubs, players AND their managers.

The current system really benefits player managers, who drag out negotiations, and play them out in public, in a way that seeks to maximise the "value" of the player they represent.

In that process truth and facts is often the main casualty. Just look at how many clubs were reportedly "interested" in Thurston!  And how many overseas clubs were waving seven figure contracts in front of his nose, or that of his manager.

There is hardly an NRL team that has not been affected in recent years by mid-season negotiations and the loss of players as a result.

There simply has to be a better way - for the good of the whole game.

And just to prove how  annoying the whole process is we learn today that Mark Gasnier may well be playing in the NRL premiership not next year, but in a matter of weeks.

How many stories have we had to put up with saying Gasnier was headed for the Queensland reds, the NSW Waratahs and the Melbourne Rebels?

But the Gasnier story has an interesting aspect that David Gallop and the NRL are going to have to think very, very seriously about.

Is Gasnier re-joining rugby league for good, or are we just a "transit centre" until the 2011 Super 15 season gets under way?

The season is just about over for the Super 14 competition, so he would not need to be in a hurry to make a decision about 2011 would he?

I have no problem with Gasnier even getting a concession from the NRL to play in an NRL club this season - given there are personal circumstances apparently surrounding a family illness involved.

But I have a problem, and I am sure most fans would have a problem, if we are just a "transit station" until he can go back to union in 2011.

But back to the main issue at hand - surely, surely there must be a better way of managing player transfers etc so that disruption to the premiership season is absolutely minimised - and the nonsense we have to put up almost daily with managers and agents is reduced even further!

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