May 9, 2021


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What would the NRL look like with a rookie player draft filed?

The salary cap is designed to achieve parity in the National Rugby League.

By limiting the money clubs could spend on their rosters, playing talent was to be distributed evenly across the competition. No more haves and have-nots.

Many point to the first victories in the premiership by the Wests Tigers (2005) and North Queensland Cowboys (2015) as evidence of the hat’s success.

However, closer examination reveals that this is clearly not the case.

Since the start of the National Football League in 1998, only three clubs have won 13 of the 23 major leagues – Melbourne Storm, Brisbane Broncos and Sydney Roosters.

Even more disturbing is that 19 of the 23 senior finalists since 1998 have been represented by one or more of these same three clubs.

It is no coincidence that the most successful clubs of the modern era are also the richest and most abundant.

All of them can afford better when it comes to training and medical and team facilities, which in turn attract the best players.

(AAP / Dan Himbrechts photo)

One way to remedy this flaw is to enter a start-up project.

Now, before you shout “Restrict Trade” or “Terry Hill” on your screen, let me first make it clear that I am not advocating the introduction of such recruitment.

But it is interesting to wonder what NRL might look like if it were to exist.

In this assumption:
• A start-up project was introduced at the start of the 2016 season
• The team that finished sixteenth in the previous season is given the first draft selection, the fifteenth place on the ladder the second choice, etc.
• The definition of “novice” is the first real taste of a first-class player (i.e. not just a one-time game)
• The drafted novice is only able to sign a humble first contract with the team that drafted it – no more than the millions of dollar teens.

What would the past five years have looked like in the world of this rookie draft? Who would have been the top three picks for the bottom three teams? My expectations are below.


Newcastle Knights – Nathan Cleary
After taking the wooden spoon for the 2015 season, new coach Nathan Brown chose half-back Nathan Cleary to start the largest rebuilding process in Newcastle since the earthquake.

The amazingly gifted Number 7 fulfills an urgent need and allows the Knights to devote substantial funds to filling other gaps.

Nathan Cleary of the Panthers runs the ball

(Photo by Jason McCoy / Getty Images)

Tigers of the West – Latrell Mitchell
The Tigers, who dip themselves annually in a repellent signature marquee, finally had the opportunity to sign a game-changing prospect in Latrell Mitchell.

With the versatility of playing at any position along the back line, as well as the bonus of being an accomplished goal-scoring player, Mitchell is the type of player who can change the trajectory of an entire organization.

Gold Coast Titans – Cody Walker
The Gold Coast circuit is returning to the New York City club debut player in 2009. Cody Walker may be the rugby league equivalent of a mature student, but his creativity and spontaneity have the potential to spark the attack of stagnant Titans.


Newcastle Knights – Kalin Bunga
It’s good to be bad when you’re Newcastle Knights.

After a year of securing their midfield, Newcastle has doubled down on taking on the most talked-about teenager Greta Thunberg. The pairing of Claire and Calen Bunga and watching them evolve together is a mouth-watering proposition, at least for Newcastle fans.

Sydney Roosters – Cameron Murray
After a rare season spent at the wrong end of the ladder, the Roosters are rewarded with the services of Cameron Murray.

The Little Medium represents a new breed of forward NRL – fast, durable and skilled. Murray will slide smoothly into the Chooks bundle.

Parramatta Els – Willem Kiko
Fijian Destruction Ball Viliame Kikau joins new recruits Nathan Brown and Mitchell Moses in a new look alongside Parramatta. Along with Clint Gutherson, this new Eels fry allows the club to finally carry a transition from the Jared Hine era.


Newcastle Knights – David Vivita
David Vivita becomes the final jewel in Newcastle’s crown. After a miserable series of naysayers, the knights emerge from three straight wooden spoons by three generations. Not a bad swap.

Vivita is seen as the best progressive prospect since Bradley Clyde, and he has gone well.

Gold Coast Titans – AJ Brimson
After Hayne’s plane crashes and burns, new coach Garth Brennan is quick to find a replacement for Jarryd. And he didn’t need to look too far.

Alex Brimson from the Titans

A.J. Brimson (Getty Images)

Local superstar Alexander Brimson will join Cody Walker and Ash Taylor to equip the Gold Coast with an attacking arsenal not seen since the days of Scott Prince.

Tigers of the West – Pine Haas
Tigers do not walk west, rather run to choose Pine Hasse.

The Paddington Colossus statue looks as if it was created in the Rugby League Lab, displaying an impressive combination of speed, footwork, stamina, and eye-catching size.

With Mitchell at the back and Haas in the front, the Tigers suddenly became a destination club for the other available players.


Parramatta Els – Ryan Papenhosen
Parramatta picking up the wooden spoon a year after finishing fourth may seem disastrous, but their inefficiency is rewarded by Ryan Papenhusen.

The winged mullet will make fans forget about Jared Heine (again) while finally allowing Parramatta’s marketing department to do the “Electric Eel” pun.

Manley Sea Eagles – Dylan Brown
It took four years for Sea Eagles to replace Kieran Foran, but finally Daly Cherry-Evans had a partner worth half.

Dylan Brown brings with him a powerful running game and an air of creativity that compliments the more organized Cherry-Evans. Along with Tom Trbojevic and Api Koroisau, Manly’s backbone was set for years to come.

Gold Coast Titans – Bodybuilders
After spending the previous draft tackling a spine, trainer Garth Brennan turns his attention to the packaging.

And Titans’ fans will be happy with that, as it allows them to sign mountain man Tino Fa’asuamaleaui.

Surprisingly fast and fast despite his brutal proportions, the big Tino will partner with other notables Ryan James, Kevin Proctor and Jay Arrow in one of the competition’s strongest attack packs.


Gold Coast Titans – Matt Burton
With Ash Taylor’s experiment failing to yield results, Titans decide to move in another direction of the gaming industry.

Burton died of the Panthers.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer / Getty Images)

The bruises are straight out of Brad Vettler’s mold, and the bruises of 85-year-old Matt Burton are Taylor’s antithesis – big, strong, and proud of running and running just as hard. His merger with Cody Walker and AJ Brimson would turn the Gold Coast into contenders.

St George Illawarra Dragons – Harry Grant
Although a bitch may not be in need, you don’t compromise on a player like Harry Grant.

Thanks to strong defense and creativity from the half phantom, the annoying Queenslander signature allows the Dragons to turn Cameron McCain’s locks up to cover unavailable Jack de Bellin.

North Queensland Cowboys – Bradman’s Best
The North Queensland offensive has seemed slow since Jonathan Thurston’s retirement, and the outdoorsy ice appearance is largely responsible.

Bradman Best’s introduction to the rear line gives an instant injection of class. The mega youth center joins freshman Valentin Holmes in a renewed cowboy offensive.


Brisbane Broncos – Sam Walker
Thankfully, Anthony Milford’s reign at Red Hill is over.

New coach Kevin Walters promptly sent Milford and Brody Croft, and handed the team over to Ipswich Jr. Sam Walker.

Son of Queensland Kings, Walker has a rap on him bigger than Ice Cube. He has the potential to be the next great from the Broncos.

Canterbury Bulldogs – Joseph Soale
For some reason, Joseph Sally feels right to Canterbury. The Bulldogs are at their best when they roam with an arrogant conceit that makes their fans unbearable.

And while Suaalii is a very humble kid according to all reports, his ridiculous talent and rigid demeanor will require the kind of occasional hatred that we haven’t seen since Sonny Bill Williams.

(Photo by Mark Evans / Getty Images)

Joseph Soale (Photo by Mark Evans / Getty Images)

North Queensland Cowboys – Jake Simpkin
As the first pupil to graduate from Damien Cook School for half-phantom play, Simpkin represents the new face of the prostitute’s attitude.

Toowoomba junior is equally adept at recording attempts and making interventions, with a rare combination of sharp pace and a tireless work ethic. It could just be the necessary spark of attack to get the Cowboys back into the competition.

Main gaps
The beginner project isn’t ideal. It tears young players away from their families and actively discourages teams from investing in youth development. But it does break the vicious circle of championship in Rugby League.

This tournament – or business as usual, as the Wests Tigers call it – usually starts with a struggling side unable to attract high-profile players. The club management panicked, knowing that losing another season could cost them their jobs.

They agree to pay above-market rates to secure the best players available.

But they soon discovered that these players were available for a good reason. Their performance does not match their salaries, but due to the long-term contracts required to lure them in the first place, the clubs are stuck with them.

A junior project can help these teams.

Let’s take a first look at tigers.

The club has been in a free fall since the departure of James Tedesco. Unable to sign big-name recruits, they have increased spending on Moses Mbey, Russell Packer, and Josh Reynolds, and their salary cap is still recovering.

The hypothetical draft allowed them to sign Latrell Mitchell and Payne Haas – both represented during their first three years in the league and both are currently ranked as the top three in their respective locations.

Not only will their inclusion on the Tigers list provide an immediate boost in the field but will also aid in future employment.

The Gold Coast is another side that has been struggling to raise the bill.

Instead of paying a higher dollar for the unproven Ash Taylor or the undeserved Jared Hine, the draft gave them the opportunity to sign the likes of Cody Walker, Tino Faaswamaloy and Matt Burton on manageable salaries.

Cody Walker celebrates his scoring attempt

Cody Walker. (Photo by Cameron Spencer / Getty Images)

Thanks to three straight wooden spoons, Newcastle completely transforms its menu with picks Nathan Cleary, Calin Bunga, and David Vivita.

Even the return of coach Rick Stone could not maintain a side that featured these three men from the Finals.

The only thing that the draft does not provide is a crystal ball.

Clubs often struggle due to poor hiring and retention decisions, and these same people will make renewal choices.

Would the tigers have chosen Latrell Mitchell, or would he have sneaked through crevices and caught by roosters or a storm?

At the end of the day, the rugby league is all about the fans.

Their willingness to support their team and handle the code is what pays the bills.

The recent explosive streak and lopsided contests are toxic to regular fans, who might instead be tempted to watch AFL or get involved with loved ones, as it sounds terrifying.

If nothing else, the rising player draft will bring hope to desperate teams.

This will give the disappointed fans some light at the end of the tunnel. And if you think that’s not important to our game, just go and spend a Saturday afternoon with a Tigers fan.

So why not give the draft another crack?

What do we have to lose?