The Bulldogs have taken the decision to release their marquee player, Ben Barba, on “compassionate grounds”. Darwin born and raised, Barba, who joined the Bulldogs in 2007 as a 17 year old, has officially signed a 3 year deal with the Brisbane Broncos. Over the past 7 years, the club, the sponsors and most importantly, the fans, have invested significant sums of money, time and emotion in developing Barba into the player and the man he is today. What is the return on their investment? How about NIL?
Notwithstanding the fact that Barba had a stellar 2012 season culminating in the prestigious Dally M player of the year award, most Bulldogs fans will feel short changed and somewhat disillusioned by the outcome, which begs a few questions: who is compassionate about the fans? Why are the fans the ones who invariably suffer as a result player movements? What compensation do you give to hundreds of kids (including my own) who have “Ben Barba” posted on their jerseys? Try explaining “compassionate grounds” to your kids, given the Bulldogs released Ben Hannant for similar reasons not so long ago. Throw in the Sonny Bill Williams debacle and you’re left wondering what the true value of a contract really is? Furthermore, does this open a Pandora’s box? Players (and managers) now have an easy exit strategy. Yes, I know it works both ways eg Peter Wallace and Scott Prince were told by their club to look elsewhere despite pre-existing contracts. Once again, contracts are almost worthless and somewhat unenforceable in most circumstances.
Another club to suffer from contractual inequities are the poor Raiders (or the “Raided”, as they are currently known). In much the same way as the Dogs have invested in Barba, the Raiders have done the same with up and coming superstar Anthony Milford, who has also asked for a release on compassionate grounds. To make matters worse, their other marquee player, Blake Ferguson, looks like exercising his option to leave the club after the dismissal of former coach, David Furner. Once again who suffers most? The fans. The Raiders have enough problems attracting quality players and, more often than not, pay overs to get players to join the club. How do you compensate them? I understand the Broncos will be compensating the Bulldogs, but to what extent? Is that sufficient? Do we start considering “Transfer fee” systems adopted in other codes like EPL? Most fans will tell you no amount of money can replace players like Barba and Milford.
My personal opinion. There are bona fide circumstances that warrant special consideration. It’s a fact of life. Players come and go. Ben Barba’s situation has been well documented throughout the year, although there are suggestions that some of the players are glad to see the back of him (in much the same way that some Raiders players are glad to see the back of Ferguson). Either way, there will always be another Ben Barba or Anthony Milford. That’s the beauty of rugby league. Just ask Wests Tigers fans who are happy to see the back of Marshall whilst ushering in a future superstar in Luke Brooks. As disappointed as the Dogs fans are right now, they can be very forgiving to Ben Barba if he happens to return from injury and help the Bulldogs to another Grand Final appearance. It’s a fickle world isn’t it?