Why it’s harder for rugby league to justify older marquee signings

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Super League has been abuzz with excitement this last month with the news that Greg Inglis will be coming out of retirement to play for Warrington Wolves. The 33-year-old has been inactive since his retirement in April 2019 but that hasn't done anything to dampen the spirits of the rugby league community. Indeed, Inglis is as marquee as signings get.

Despite not having played since announcing his retirement in 2019, Inglis will have a full 12 months to prepare for his second act in rugby league which will no doubt give him the time he needs to be in peak physical shape. All in all, it's a shrewd bit of business by Warrington, but question marks around older marquee signings in rugby league still remain.

Sure, they get supporters talking but only really the ones that have a vested interest in rugby league. At the end of the day, rugby league is some way down the pecking order in most countries as far as popularity goes which does cast a somewhat uncomfortable light on splashing the cash on a big signing. Maybe that applies more to players who are in the twilight of their careers and whose best days are some way behind them.

By all means, break the bank for a young star so that you can build a dynasty and win trophies but as for ones in their mid-thirties, the jury is still out as far as return on investment goes. For instance, a team like Warrington Wolves aren't going to generate as much interest as LA Galaxy did when they signed a David Beckham who was well past his prime.

Well, in terms of glittering career achievements, Inglis is on a par with Beckham after enjoying a career in rugby league that was one of the finest we've ever seen. Only, Beckham plays football, a sport in which older marquee signings get the whole world talking, not just a niche set of supporters. So regardless of whether he performs or not, the job had been done; football in America was on the map and the sponsors came running.

In rugby league it is a vastly different story as the onus is on these older stars to actually perform and not just pick up a paycheque. Their profile in the game alone is not enough to justify the signing in a league where you can't carry passengers.

Just look at the Toronto Wolfpack after signing Sonny Bill Williams. Much fanfare greeted this signing but, six games into the season, Toronto are yet to register one point and sit stone last in the league. The greater problem is that their budget on players has been exhausted by pinning their hopes on an ageing Williams who had last played rugby league a decade ago. So far, they've got very little to show for it.

Now, Williams' ability to convert back to rugby league probably wasn't as big of an issue as rugby and New Zealand is certainly a match made in heaven. Players from the Land of the Long White Cloud are often able to switch codes without any difficulty given their superiority with a rugby ball in hand. Rugby in New Zealand is after all, a national obsession and its League component is rated highly on the global scale.

The problem is that it may take time for Williams to hit his straps but at 34, that isn't a luxury they can afford, especially after paying a king's ransom for him. The same can be said for Inglis, there's precious little time to get up and running.

This all begs the question if the financial outlay is indeed warranted when singing older marquee players in rugby league? The commercial aspect of the sport would suggest not.