Dave Craven: Answers on a postcard if you can solve league’s ‘player drain’

Brett Ferres.
Brett Ferres.
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I HAVE to concede this week that I am at a loss for the answer to the ‘player drain’ conundrum. It’s beaten me.

Essentially, is there anything the sport here can truly do to prevent its most talented – not even its most talented, in fact – players seeking pastures new?

The announcement from Wigan Warriors that both Josh Charnley and Dan Sarginson will be heading off at the end of the season, Charnley to Sale Sharks and his team-mate the considerably further distance to Australia’s Gold Coast, raised the old debate once more.

And there is an emphasis on ‘old’ there. As Brian McDermott rightly pointed out on Thursday, it is a debate that has been going on for almost as long as Super League itself – 20 years – and no true answers have ever been forthcoming.

For all the Leeds Rhinos’ head coach has his views on what can improve things, I don’t think he has an actual solution either.

Nothing much has been done in the last two decades to prevent leading players uprooting for the NRL or the 15-man code and, I’ve come to the conclusion, it’s because there is no real solution.

Maybe it just has to be accepted that, in a free market, players of a certain calibre will opt for the sunshine of Sydney or the higher-profile union provides.

Admittedly, you could argue the restrictive salary cap here – around half of what is available to NRL clubs – is severely damaging, but clubs do have the chance to utilise the marquee player ruling.

Granted, that can cause its own problems.

Imagine knowing your similarly-skilled team-mate was on twice your wage? I would be looking at Qantas flight times faster than you could say ‘Snowy, I can see the pub from here’.

Should Super League teams be able to spend what they want on all players, not just the special one?

There is an argument for that. The likes of Wigan, Warrington and Leeds would undoubtedly utilise it.

But even if that was the case, would Sarginson or Charnley still be at Wigan in 2017? Probably not.

Bizarrely, for all Charnley is unquestionably a great player, he has struggled to hold down a Wigan first-team place in recent seasons let alone an England berth.

I think what Super League has to rely on is that some – maybe not as many as in the past – top-line NRL players will always want to try out the competition at some point in their careers, if only to utilise the chance to travel around Europe.

No one can argue that Frank Pritchard, Hull FC’s major overseas signing this term, is not high-class while there will always be those younger players unable to get a decent chance in the NRL who will want an opportunity to come here.

Castleford Tigers’ Denny Solomona is a case in point and how he has lit up Super League with his sublime finishing.

To add to that, there will always be leading English players who simply do not fancy moving across to the other side of the world; there’s a lot to be said for the pulling power of Blighty when all is said and done.

Ryan Hall could have named his price to go to Oz, but looks like remaining a Leeds player for life.

Similarly, Brett Ferres had his suitors but opted to stay at Huddersfield Giants before his enforced move closer to home to Leeds. Anyone with any obvious answers, well, drop me a line. Or the RFL, at least.