After a weekend in which two NRL teams – the Dragons and the Broncos – stamped themselves as serious premiership contenders the focus has switched to an issue that needs to be addressed by football codes generally: the validity of “contracts” entered into by players, and even coaches.
The weekend revelations by Phil “Gus” Gould of the depth of Wayne Bennett’s negotiations with the Roosters to become coach next year, together with a possible court battle over the future of the Storm’s Steve Turner, might mean clearer guidelines regarding contracts will be laid out sooner rather than later.
Storm officials believe they have a strong case to prevent Steve Turner honouring his verbal contract with the new NRL team, the Gold Coast Titans, but to prove it they will have to take the NRL, as well as the Titans, to court. That will be an interesting battle: the News Ltd-owned Storm suing the part-News Ltd-owned NRL!
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The NRL has sided with the Titans, even though there is no actual signed contract, but extensive negotiations took place and the shift by Turner to the Titans was made public at the time by Turner himself. He subsequently signed a new three-year deal with the Storm, a deal the NRL flatly refuses to register.
Given that the NRL has sided with the Titans on this one, what would it do if the Roosters tried to enforce its apparent agreement with Wayne Bennett? If Gould is accurate – and his claims have not been denied – the agreement with Bennett included the timing of the firing of coach Ricky Stuart, the selection of coaching support staff and more.
The League’s hands may be tied, because while the NRL has full authority over player contracts, it has less control over coaches contracts. But these two cases surely raise the question for the NRL, and other football bodies, over just what constitutes a contract, and in what circumstances contracts can be broken?