While AFL players and their association are pre-occupied with drugs scandals and the attendant policies (not to mention astounding revelations of drug abuse in the ruling premiers), NRL players have been upping the ante on an issue very close to their hip-pockets – the share of NRL revenue that flows to players.

A week ago, the Bulldogs’ Willie Mason was being touted as the “next” Australian captain, but he can forget that after an extraordinary article in the Sun Herald threatening a players’ strike during the State of Origin unless the salary cap was increased so the minimum payment to players could be increased to about $120,000 a year – about double the current average minimum.

And for good measure he wanted player payments for State of Origin appearances increased as well.

Mason’s calls were based on the higher revenue the NRL and ARL are getting from the new television deal with Nine, and the improved major sponsorship deal with Telstra. Even the Rugby League Professionals Association, which represents most players, rushed to distance itself from Mason.

But he looks like having an impact he might not have anticipated. The NRL has agreed to convene a forum with players to outlined the league’s finances.

As the current test captain, Darren Lockyer said yesterday that the game’s star players had no idea how much money the NRL competition makes. And that is the nub of the issue. Unlike the AFL, which issues a comprehensive financial report, the NRL does not do so because it is not required to. What is known is that News Limited draws about $8 million a year out of NRL profits – so the annual profit is somewhere between $16 million and $20 million.

Under the new television rights deal, the profit should be higher, given that the salary cap is only going to increase marginally this year and beyond.

If Mason has achieved nothing more than ensure there is wider exposure, and hopefully detailed public disclosure, of the finances of the NRL, then he will have unwittingly done the game a favour.

If the forum is given a detailed breakdown of the games finances, it will not be long before it gets into the media. And so it should. The NRL should get in first and issue a detailed public statement at the same time as it briefs the players – and use the format the AFL has adopted to do so.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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