The Australian Rugby Union, and English Rugby League Clubs, must be
popping champagne, or a good red, now the National Rugby League has released
its “solution” to the loss of NRL players to the game because of the salary cap

There are times when the NRL behaves in a somewhat “odd” way, but this
one is truly bewildering.

The NRL’s “solution” is set out in today’s papers, and surprise,
surprise, it does not involve relaxing the provisions of the salary cap laws.

The NRL believes it can stop Sonny Bill Williams, and whoever else,
from being poached by Union, or English League, by a new superannuation scheme
aimed at rewarding stars for their loyalty.

Sounds good, until you read the details.

Take the case of Andrew Johns, one of the highest paid players in the
NRL, who was targeted by the NSW Rugby Union last year.

In return for playing 21 State of Origin games (and winning 11) and 23
tests matches, Andrew Johns new whiz bang super entitlement is around $134,000
plus interest!

Now I am all for a superannuation scheme for players. But to suggest
that withholding a payment of around $130,000 would prevent the ARU, NZRU, or
anyone else poaching a player they want is truly fanciful.

Does the NRL believe we are all fools? And does it believe its rivals
are fools as well?

Even with taxation benefits, can anyone seriously suggest a lazy
$130,000 – paid by deduction from the payments for test and origin appearances
in any event – will stand in the way of union, or UK League, poaching the
player it wants? They will

reimburse the player that…and more!

And this scheme will do nothing to save Sonny Bill Williams who has
paid no more than a handful of tests for the Kiwis! And it will do nothing to
stop up and coming young players being poached even before they play state of
origin or a test match.

I applaud the NRL, and the Players Association, for looking at the
post-playing career needs of the players…but let’s not pretend a reasonably
modest superannuation scheme is a sure fire solution to poaching!

Unsurprisingly, the NRL has effectively ruled out easing the salary cap
to enable the Bulldogs keep Sonny Bill Williams.

The NRL is jealously guarding the salary cap for a whole series of
reasons. And it clearly fears that granting concessions will open the
floodgates. And it might be right.

The first season is that controlling the salary caps dampens down
demands from the clubs for higher payments from the NRL (half owned by News

It also suits the poorly managed, or poorly financed clubs.

So rather than forcing them to lift their game, it much prefers to hold
down the better performing clubs through tight control over the salary cap.

And it is supposed to “even up” the competition!

In the 2004 premiership the top two teams – Roosters and Bulldogs – won
24 games each while the bottom two teams – Warriors and Rabbitos – won 6 and 5

And speaking about the premiership, the Canberra Raiders made it into
the semi finals after losing more games that they won!

The salary cap has become a “sacred cow” in rugby league, just as it in
the AFL.

And that is surely evident from the shrill bleating from a “usual
suspect” – Parramatta’s Dennis Fitzgerald – and the Roosters coach, Ricky
Stuart, that the Broncos support for a salary cap concession for Sonny Bill
Williams has ulterior motives!

It might have…but does that undermine the logic of the case of
salary cap variations for high quality players to guard against raids from
codes, and other sections of our own game, that don’t have salary cap

To me the solution is simple…charge an independent body with
evaluating and determining requests from clubs for salary cap concessions in
order to keep the players the game needs.

And the right body to do so is already in place – the NRL Appeals
Tribunal, headed by Sir Laurence Whistler Street, the distinguished former
Chief Justice of NSW.

It can determine whether the conditions exist that warrant waiving the
salary cap restrictions in individual cases…..and that will ensure the process
is a transparent and fair one.

And rugby league club officials will be rushing out to snap up copies
of today’s “Financial Review” and read very carefully the three page report on
the Brisbane Lions and the club’s powerful, and seemingly handy, “connections”.

If anyone believes that there are not “creative” activities taking
place with regard to the rugby league salary cap then they must also believe
that Rodney Adler is a paragon of corporate virtue!

Outside Centre can be contacted at outsidecentre10

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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