Having coached Richmond to three of the last four premierships, Damien Hardwick’s opinion carries more weight than most.
Speaking on Wednesday, he revealed, "We've got a young kid by the name of Samson Ryan (206cm ruckman) that we'd love to loan [to Gold Coast]. At the end of the day this kid – we're really excited about what he's going to bring – but we've got (Callum) Coleman-Jones, we've got Mabior Chol, we've got Samson."
"So he's sitting there playing forward in VFL footy. Not that I'd like to give [Gold Coast] Samson if he's playing against us, but anything that gives a player the opportunity to play AFL we should look at, absolutely."
Hardwick was of course referencing Gold Coast’s crippling ruck crisis. With Jarrod Witts and Matt Conroy out for the season, and Zac Smith not expected to return for another 3-4 weeks, they are left with undersized 191cm swingman Charlie Burgess to shoulder their ruck duties.
If an AFL player loan system were to come to fruition, loans would be rare and require exceptional circumstances. The Gold Coast scenario right now a perfect example.
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So, what do loan systems look like in other codes?
Player loans are most prominent in football, and the common scenario is larger clubs loaning their young players to smaller clubs so they can gain match experience while the smaller club strengthens their team. It’s a system that benefits both parties.
Loans can also be used as a try-before-you-buy in football, with an option for a club to buy the player once the loan expires potentially included in the contract.
This is an interesting theory when applied to AFL, if a player like Samson Ryan were to be loaned to the Gold Coast and see more opportunity there in future, he could request a trade at the end of the season hoping to make the move permanent.
In the NRL, loans are rare but plausible. A prime example of why the AFL should explore the concept further was Harry Grant in 2020.
Injuries and retirements left Wests Tigers without a specialist hooker and Grant was the third-in-line hooker at the Melbourne Storm.
Both clubs agreed to a player loan with Storm-contracted Grant playing at the Tigers for the remainder of the 2020 season, and Tigers-contracted Paul Momirovski playing at the Storm, with both players returning to their respective clubs in 2021.
The NRL also cleared the players to play against their ‘contracted’ sides in round 16.
Grant burst onto the scene at Wests, winning Dally M Rookie of the Year and making his State of Origin debut, feats that wouldn’t have been possible had he been at the Storm.
The Tigers received a quality player that filled an important void for the season, and the Storm had an inexperienced player transformed into a ready-made star.
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Back to the AFL.
The only way clubs can fill voids left by injury and early retirements is the mid-season rookie draft, which has been confirmed for early June, meaning Gold Coast will have to wait until round 12 to revitalise their depleted ruck stocks.
The player loan system would serve the same purpose as the mid-season rookie draft, it would just offer a timely alternative and AFL-listed replacements.
A decision for the AFL to make would be whether loans are a one-way transaction, meaning – like the mid-season rookie draft – a club would need to have a list spot available either through long-term injury or retirement. Or would loans be a two-way deal, like the NRL example, meaning clubs have to give a player to receive a player.
Either way, AFL player loans would offer clubs an option to fill voids left by retirements and injuries as well as get games into young players. Worst case scenario, it doesn’t get used, but it doesn’t hurt to have the option there.
Hardwick summed it up perfectly: “anything that gives the young player the opportunity to play the game I’d love.”