Even the most ambitious Championship clubs can’t stand in the way when Super League clubs come knocking for their players.
Leeds coach Rohan Smith has made no secret of his intention to turn to the Championship for recruitmentparticularly in the context of the management of the salary ceiling.
The Rhinos opted for much-loved full-back Luke Hooley, who has played for Batley in recent seasons, as well as Wales international center Luis Roberts from Leigh. Toby Warren made the move from York, while back rower Leon Ruan moved to Headingley from League 1 side Doncaster.
One club that has seen the benefits of this recruiting approach is Salford, a club that has continued to punch above its weight on the pitch despite not spending as much as its competitors.
Both Deon Cross and Tyler Dupree left Widnes and began to not only establish themselves as solid Super League players but also gain international recognition via England Knights.
The latest big move saw prolific winger Tee Ritson swap Barrow for Super League champions St Helens in an eye-catching deal.
The Saints signed the Thai-born speedster on a season-long loan deal, with a pledge to buy out the final year of his contract at Matt Johnson Prestige Stadium if he impressed enough.
As part of the deal, Ritson will likely be made available for Barrow throughout 2023 when he is not required by the Saints first team.
The running of rugby league clubs ranges from the coat-and-dagger approach to the outright ridiculous, but Barrow continues to be very transparent and open about how they operate. In recent years, the club has positioned itself at the heart of its community in a way that is arguably superior to most other clubs in the pyramid. Their off-field activity has helped to support on-field growth, which saw them reach the Championship play-offs last season in their first season at this level.
It was this progress that drew attention to Ritson, who formed a thrilling right edge with Hakim Miloudi who contributed 45 tries for the Raiders as he finished fourth.
Barrow was perhaps in the unique position of being a part-time club, but with a player whose livelihood was tied to them – Ritson combining acting with his role in the club’s community foundation.
With him under contract, they could stand firm in asking for a fee because of it – something that’s not always an option for other clubs who have part-time players.
The majority of Championship players combine their rugby with work outside the sport, which means that when an offer comes in from a Super League club to go full-time, it means a serious decision needs to be made.
Clubs do not want to stand in the way of human beings of a certain age, or with a burning desire to be a full-time professional sportsman, and prevent them from undertaking a life-changing movement.
This is often to their detriment. They could sit down, keep the player, deny him that opportunity to progress and move on. But that may well deter other similar players from plying their trade with them in the future.
But that’s no consolation for supporters of Championship clubs, who see their best players snapped up by Super League clubs who could stunt their own club’s progress, when of course they want to see the best players stay. to lead their club to success.
“Sometimes in life, you have to take care of people”
It was the criticism of the Ritson deal that prompted Barrow chairman Steve Neale to post a very transparent update on the club’s social media, explaining the decision in Q&A format.
He answered some of the questions posed by fans including whether the club received a fee, why they decided to let him go and why it was a loan deal and not a permanent one.
He said: “When Tee Ritson negotiated his contract in 2021, he agreed to sign a three-year contract only on condition that a Super League release clause was inserted. To protect the club, we negotiated with Tee that the Super League club would have to pay a specific lump sum for him to leave.
“It is wrong to say that we will not get any money. In fact, Barrow Raiders receives significant fees.
“In a way it was to protect Tee and the options were discussed with him. Tee didn’t want to play for any other Championship club and the agreement allows Barrow to call him back at any time if Tee doesn’t. part of the St. Helens squad Had he signed for the Saints and not made the squad there was a risk that Tee would have to play reserve rugby or be loaned out to another club of championship.
“We have received a lump sum, all Tee’s wages will be paid by St. Helens, if he is not chosen for the Saints, he is available for Barrow, all medical expenses are paid for by the Saints, s’ he is not signed by the Saints for 2024, he is under contract with Barrow.
“Best case scenario we have Tee for the whole season with all his wages and a lump sum paid by the Saints. The worst case scenario is that he makes the grade with the Saints and never plays for Barrow again, but in this scenario we receive full compensation as agreed in his contract.
“We want Tee to make the leap, we’re not a club to stand in the way of a player’s ambitions. We’d like to see him on TV every week scoring the kinds of tries we’re used to. Sometimes in life , you have to take care of people. We think that’s what suits us best in the long term.
Other players leaving the Championship are full-time players Adam Sidlow and Sam Stone who moved to Salford from Leigh, while the Leopards brought in Nathan Wilde from Newcastle Thunder.
Salford have also signed Featherstone back rower Ben Hellewell, and former Warrington youngster Morgan Smith has another shot in the top flight with Wakefield.