It’s the off-season so there isn’t much going on at Saints beyond last week’s kit launch and the belly-laugh inducing news that Matty Smith is 16-1 to be Man Of Steel in 2017. With such meagre offerings on the Saints front we really need to thank Denny Solomona for filling the rugby league void with some of the most spineless, despicable behaviour seen in sport since the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding affair.
To recap, Solomona has been the subject of much speculation regarding his future. Having notched a record 40 tries in Super League in 2016 the Castleford Tigers winger was thought to be in talks with Sale Sharks over a switch to the rugby union side. Understandably Cas were not too keen on releasing their man while he was still under contract and issued a series of hands-off warnings to Sale and any other potential suitors.
Yet Sale did not keep their hands off, instead getting even more handsy in a manner which Donald Trump would have denounced. Their pursuit of Solomona continued and with Sale and Castleford unable to come to an agreement about his transfer, the former London Broncos winger has taken the unpalatable step of ‘retiring’ from rugby league in order to try and free himself of his Castleford contract and so become available to play rugby union for Sale.
We have long since known that rugby union is out to get us. The doctors, laywers and dentists of that moribund sport will never rest until they have sounded the final death knell in rugby league. They have seen to it that union is the only code offered in many schools throughout the UK, but have nevertheless decided that rather than spend their sacks full of cash on developing their own talent they will instead splash it on the best that rugby league has to offer. Witness their shambolic handling of Sam Burgess’ switch to union. Despite Burgess’ hasty return to RL and that of others like Josh Jones they continue to return to this particular well, with Sale also having recently signed Wigan winger Josh Charnley.
On the face of it we can’t complain too much. Rugby league cherry-picked the best rugby union players for decades before the kick’n’clap merchants finally stepped into the present and became fully professional. Men like Martin Offiah, Jonathan Davies and Scott Gibbs graced rugby league after starting out in union and there were countless more who had a huge impact in rugby league. There was also Scott Quinnell. Financially we bullied rugby union into submission to acquire these players and so should probably just grin and bear it now that the boot is on the other foot.
Except. Except that nobody did anything as unscrupulous as to retire from rugby union to get their hands on a lucrative rugby league contract. We do not like those apples. Nor do Castleford, who have already announced that they will be taking legal action against Solomona after he failed to return for pre-season training on November 7. Yet it’s unclear how likely they are to be successful. The best that they can probably hope for is that the court will see Solomona’s under-hand and desperate bid to retire as the callous ruse that it is and force Sale to pay an appropriate transfer fee. It would be nice to think that the court would throw the book at Sale for their part in all of this and hand out the kind of fine that would launch them into financial oblivion. Charnley would be on his way back to Wigan sharpish in that case, but alas it seems unlikely. Players get their way in modern team sports and especially in rugby league. Should Cas insist on holding on to Solomona’s registration he will count on their salary cap without any prospect of him taking the field for them, both because he doesn’t want to and because if they have any sense, they wouldn’t have him back if he crawled back on his hands and knees.
Which brings us to the only rational solution to this new threat to rugby league’s prosperity from the evil empire that is the other code. When Solomona finally secures his release from the Tigers and joins Sale, which will happen whatever the cost to the union club, he should be politely informed that the door is closed on a return to rugby league at a later stage of his career. A lifetime ban. Had we given the same ultimatum to Burgess he may have thought twice about piss-balling around at flanker for a year. Though union offers greater riches for players at the peak of their powers, league continues to offer those players a lifeline when it eventually and inevitably goes boobs up for them and they sidle back towards the Super League or the NRL. How many of the Burgesses of the future would be prepared to take the risk that they will make it in union if they know that a return to league should they fail is off the table? A few less I would suggest.
Now this may seem like a draconian solution to the problem. There will be those who argue that RL should just wear the loss of Solomona and anyone else who tries to go down a similar route in the future, and concentrate instead on developing younger talent to replace them. No player has ever been bigger than the game after all, and in any case as we have seen players who take the RFU’s riches are likely to return cap in hand in the not so distant future. But sometimes a situation is so grave that it demands drastic action. The RFL needs to grow a pair and not allow the game it governs to be treated as a mere stepping stone to union, or as a retirement home for those who fail to shine on freezing afternoons at Twickers. Let them go, but let them know that if they do they had better be successful at rucking, mauling, eye-gouging and farting because if not, they will have to go and get a proper job like the rest of us.
Fuck you, Denny.