Wests Tigers NRL coach Ivan Cleary during a closed training session at Concord Oval, Sydney. Picture: Brett Costello
Wests Tigers NRL coach Ivan Cleary during a closed training session at Concord Oval, Sydney. Picture: Brett Costello

NRL to end poaching farce with ‘Cleary clause’

The NRL will explore introducing strict anti-poaching rules to ensure there is no repeat of the coaching merry-go-round farce that has plagued rugby league in recent months.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal an NRL chief executives conference in Sydney on Tuesday morning will discuss implementing new rules preventing coaches signing with another club more than a year before coming off contract, or else they face serious penalty.

Under the proposal, coaches who break the rules would face suspensions, while clubs found guilty of breaches would be heavily fined.

It would avoid the fiasco which has unfolded in recent months when Ivan Cleary signed with Penrith despite having two years remaining on his Wests Tigers deal.

Anthony Seibold also agreed to join Brisbane in 2020 despite having more than a year left on his South Sydney contract. That in turn forced Wayne Bennett to sign with the Rabbitohs and both clubs are now left to wrangle over a possible early swap.

Under NRL rules, players cannot be formally signed or registered until they move inside the final year of their existing contract. Their push will be for coaches to operate under the same November 1 deadline.

NRL CEOs will discuss a raft of measures to prevent the coaching merry-go-round which damaged rugby league's integrity this year.

"We will probably need to look at some restrictions on poaching," Canberra chief executive Don Furner said.

Currently, coaches can sign with another club at any point as long as they do not break their current contracts.

Anthony Seibold has already decided to head to Brisbane.
Anthony Seibold has already decided to head to Brisbane.

An option to be discussed at the meeting includes a deadline for coaches of anywhere from three months to a year of their contract expiring when they can be courted a rival club.

One CEO, who requested anonymity until after the idea had been floated at the meeting, said any coach who flouts the rules and signs elsewhere with a year remaining should face suspension and the club involved to be fined.

"If it becomes known as fact that he has signed a contract then you have a major issue - what they should do is suspended him," he said.

"The NRL would have to have some pretty strong evidence but if you get someone disgruntled leaving a club then he could be called in to talk.

"He could tip off the coach if he has a signed copy of the agreement. Then the coach is gone and so is the club. The coach should be stood down, simple. He should be breached and thrown out of the game.

Michael Maguire will take over at the Tigers.
Michael Maguire will take over at the Tigers.

"If they are going to bring in any rule, then they have to make the penalty unbelievably substantial. There will always be a whistleblower somewhere."

It is unknown whether the NRL will make a recommendation or allow the coaches to openly discuss the issue.

"This could just be a very unusual year because it (the coaching movement) doesn't normally happen," Furner said. "It's quite a unique period that we're in.

"But we have to discuss whether it's one-off or whether it will be become more normal. If everybody thinks it will be become more normal, we will probably need to look at some restrictions on poaching.

"It's difficult for the fans to understand too. It's probably not a good look. It would be pretty hard to prove and it's difficult to set a rule that's hard to police. But if a club comes out and says such-and-such has signed with us in two years' time, maybe that's something that needs to be looked at.

Wayne Bennett will join South Sydney in 2020. AAP Image/Dan Peled.
Wayne Bennett will join South Sydney in 2020. AAP Image/Dan Peled.

"It thankfully hasn't happened to our club and we haven't done it to any other club so we haven't been unaffected by it all but I'm sure it was unsettling for those clubs affected."

Tigers chief executive Justin Pascoe last month backed the idea.

"I am a big advocate of following the same principles that we do with players, which is they shouldn't be allowed to speak with coaches until they are in the final year of their contract," Pascoe told Sky Sports Radio.

"When you are looking at trying to get extra revenue into the game and get those corporates attracted to the game what resonates is that there is a lack of integrity that exists around contracts and contract obligations."

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