PREMIERSHIP-winning former Dragons half Jamie Soward has declared the NRL's contract system a "joke" and proposed a transfer system that would result in star recruit Ben Hunt wearing the Red V in time for the 2017 season.
Hunt has dominated headlines for the past week, with confirmation coming on Monday that he has signed a monster $6 million, five-year deal, with an option, to join St George-Illawarra in 2018.
The 26-year-old will see out the final season of his current deal with the Broncos despite having committed what is likely the rest of his career elsewhere.
Soward slammed the position Hunt now finds himself in, calling for a transfer fee policy similar to that of club football in lucrative overseas markets.
"You can obviously see Ben Hunt's made a career decision, he's coming down and he's going to get a lot of money," Soward told Fox Sports.
"But (it's) hard when you've trained all pre-season knowing that this is it. Does Wayne Bennett just say after one game 'see you later'?
"Why not bring someone in from the under-20s system and get them into the system?
"I think right now if Brisbane said to St George 'you can have Ben Hunt if you pay us $200,000', that would happen straight away.
"At the moment, because they've taken away the June 30 deadline, it's a joke. You're able to sign contracts two to three years ahead of where you wanted to be.
"If you had a transfer fee, they'd say 'right we'd take him this year, we need a halfback' and that's what would've happened."
The June 30 deadline Soward refers to is the NRL's old anti-tampering rules that were abolished a decade ago, as deals were constantly being struck behind closed doors despite negotiations not being permitted until the end of the financial year.
Currently players are unable to field official offers from rival outfits until November 1 if they are coming off-contract the following season.
But some of the game's biggest names, like Hunt or Soward himself when he signed with Penrith in mid-2013, are increasingly coming to terms elsewhere while still under contract.
The suggestion of transfer fees, as well as mid-year and end-of-season transfer periods, have been considered by head office in salary cap reviews of recent years.
Player releases on compassionate grounds, such as Ben Barba from the Bulldogs towards the end of 2013, have sparked similar suggestions previously, while Daly Cherry-Evans backflipping on a deal with the Titans meant the controversial round 13 was rule scrapped in 2015.