FURIOUS Canberra officials are preparing to legally challenge the NRL’s player transfer rules after 2009 recruit Nathan Smith became the latest star to renege. Just a week after Panthers playmaker Luke Lewis exploited the NRL loophole to get out of a deal with Souths, teammate Smith last night followed suit by backflipping on his three-year deal with the Raiders.
Smith agreed to terms with Canberra on April 29, but was reluctant to leave Penrith and only agreed to do so because the Raiders offered $50,000 more per season.
After witnessing Lewis’s reversal seven days ago, he approached Penrith officials earlier this week to reaffirm his desire to stay.
Having been unable to secure a replacement back-rower, CEO Mick Leary and coach Matt Elliott agreed to match Canberra’s $200,000-a-year offer.
Smith wanted to re-sign with Penrith for a further three years last night, but legal threats from ropeable Raiders boss Don Furner prevented the extension from being rubber-stamped.
Under the new NRL rules, the current club has until Tuesday morning to make a counter offer to any contracted players who are committed elsewhere for next season.
While the Panthers and Smith have done nothing illegal under the rules, Furner yesterday obtained legal advice that suggests the law can be challenged because it induces players to breach contracts.
Smith’s agent Sam Ayoub lamented the debacle last night. After Furner threatened to sue his client for breach of contract, Ayoub sought a guarantee from Penrith that the club would indemnify Smith against any legal action.
Leary could not provide sucha guarantee but has promisedto meet NRL CEO David Gallop today.
“It’s unbelievable,” Ayoub said. “The NRL creates these ridiculous laws but then when the s..t hits the fan it’s the player who can be sued because he’s the one that is party to the contract.”
Furner could not be contacted for comment.