PJ Ellis cleared for return to Pickers

MAITLAND premiership-winning captain PJ Ellis was finally cleared yesterday to return to the Pickers from Central Newcastle, ending the drawn-out contractual stoush between the Newcastle Rugby League clubs.

Ellis joined the Butcher Boys as their captain-coach during the off-season from Maitland but quit in March citing a lack of commitment from players.

Central blocked his return to the premiers and last month the Newcastle Rugby League board ruled the contract was valid.

Ellis refused to return to Central and sat out the first three rounds of 2012.

Yesterday’s breakthrough was achieved at a meeting between NRL chairman Trevor Crow, Pickers president John Thomas and Central president Tom Colquhoun at Cardiff RSL.

Crow has been working behind the scenes to bring the two clubs to an amicable agreement in recent weeks.

‘‘I put myself in the middle to try and find some middle ground and spoke about a bit of ethics and courtesy,’’ Crow said. ‘‘I didn’t really want a player of PJ’s standard not playing footy and I wanted to see Central reimbursed.’’

Maitland have agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to Central for Ellis, and the veteran hooker will not be allowed to play against the Butcher Boys in their two regular-season matches.

Ellis is free to play on Sunday for the Pickers in their match against the Port Stephens Sharks at Lakeside.

It is yet to be determined if Ellis will be worth 75 points to Maitland under the player points system or zero. Crow said either way Ellis would fit under the Pickers’ cap.

Ellis was unaware he had been officially cleared when phoned by the Herald and admitted the saga had diminished his love of the game.

‘‘The candle has pretty much gone out and now I’ve got to try get it going,’’ he said.

This season was always going to be the 35-year-old’s swansong, and he was grateful he could finish at Maitland.

‘‘It does give me the opportunity to finish on my own terms,’’ he said.

It is the second time this season Crow has had to wade in on a contractual dispute.

Former Parramatta, Manly, Melbourne and Cronulla prop Jack Afamasaga initially signed with Central for this season, but left the club and joined Western Suburbs when the Butcher Boys could not find him employment.

Afamasaga had a clause in his contract that Central must find him work.

Crow said it was unfortunate the Ellis and Afamasaga cases required the intervention of the league.

‘‘Reaching amicable agreements in both cases has provided a pathway for everyone to get what they want, but when is a contract a contract?,’’ he said. ‘‘When is a handshake a handshake and a signature binding?

‘‘It’s disappointing to see players sign contracts with a lot of intent and enthusiasm and when it just doesn’t go their way they’re seeking releases.’’

Ellis has been named in reserves this weekend but could play off the bench in firsts.

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