RUGBY Football League chief executive Nigel Wood has warned it is a worry for all sports – not just the 13-man code – with “profound potential implications” if Castleford Tigers’ Denny Solomona is allowed to walk away from his contract and join Sale Sharks.
The on-going saga with the prolific New Zealander continued yesterday when rugby union club Sale registered him to play in their European Champions Cup campaign despite still no official confirmation he had actually joined them.
Solomona, 23, remains contracted to Castleford until the end of 2018 but failed to report for pre-season training last month and has, instead, been spotted training at Sharks.
Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond recently claimed the Samoa international – who scored a club record 42 tries for Tigers last season – had ‘resigned’ from rugby league and it is thought the Premiership side are readied to imminently announce his arrival.
However, the West Yorkshire club, who had turned down three offers for Solomona in recent months, has stated its intention to take the issue to the High Court if need be and have appointed leading London barrister Nick Randall QC and Leeds-based sports lawyer Richard Cramer to fight their cause.
Indeed, The Yorkshire Post understands there is no sign of either club softening its stance and, therefore, a legal battle is set to ensue.
If it went the distance, it could be June next year before a resolution but there is no way Solomona can be prevented playing for Sale in the meantime.
Speaking at an end-of-year media briefing at the RFL headquarters in Leeds yesterday, Wood expressed his concerns about the possible ramifications.
“Castleford will be making their position public over the next couple of days but I expect them to defend their position vigorously,” he said, with the fear more Super League players could simply quit to cross codes if Sale are successful.
“The sanctity of contracts have to be respected. It’s a concern for more than just the game.
“There’s got to be some form of process when you enter a contract with people where they have to be respected.
“Walking away from something is not to be condoned, whether it’s players moving in or out of rugby league.
“I can’t think of any situation like this. There was a case almost 20 years ago when Craig Innes went back to Australia from Leeds and got out of a contract, but that was staying within rugby league.
“The big one, I think, is Sonny Bill Williams leaving the (Canterbury) Bulldogs to play for Toulon – and eventually, when everyone sorted things out, there was a significant compensation payment.”
Kiwi star Williams was just 18 months into a five-year contract with the Sydney-based NRL side when he walked out of that deal, French rugby union side Toulon eventually forced to pay around £300,000 for his services.
Castleford could, theoretically, expect a similar fee for Solomona, who, along with former Wigan and England winger Josh Charnley, has been added to Sale’s Champions Cup squad ahead of Saturday’s round-three match against Saracens, with Nick Scott and Will Addison being de-registered. It is not thought that he will actually play this weekend but they hope to field him later in the competition.
Asked if he felt an agreement would be reached between the two parties, Wood said: “It would be inappropriate to speculate on things as there’s ongoing legal action, but obviously a contract exists and Castleford have not agreed to release him.
“It’s got profound potential implications for the whole of the sport.”
Furthermore, he defended the strength of the governing body’s players contracts saying that is not the issue in this instance.
“I’m not sure our contacts are weak,” added Wood.
“The standard RFL contract is relatively clear and in any event of something like this happening, it would always be referred to the law of the land, as there’s nothing uncertain about Denny Solomona’s contract with Castleford.
“We’ve been in contact with both the RFU and Premiership Rugby to express our concerns, and they are certainly aware of our position.
“This is bigger than just rugby league and rugby union; it is a law of the land issue potentially.”
Although there is no agreement in place between the RFU/Premier Rugby and the RFL regarding cross-code player transfers, there is between the RFL and NRL which makes the situation of Leeds Rhinos and Warrington Wolves less problematic.
Leeds hooker James Segeyaro has walked out on the last two years of his deal and scrum-half Chris Sandow has done the same with 12 months left of his Warrington contract.
However, while both try and find a club in Australia, their Super League clubs crucially retain their playing registration and, therefore, they will not be able to play elsewhere in the sport unless a fee is paid.
Wood has been in dialogue with the NRL and confirmed: “The NRL were supportive of the principle that contracts are contracts.”