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NRL: Salary cap showdown set to ignite

With clubs in the midst of planning for 2018 and a firm salary cap yet to be set, things could be about to reach a tipping point.


The Australian winter has been dominated by boardroom disputes, negotiating battles and far too much politics for the average NRL fan. Despite this, the divide between the NRL and the Rugby League Player’s Association (RLPA) has slipped quietly under the radar as the season has progressed.

Still waiting on a salary cap

We are now at the showpiece section of the year where the best talent vie for trophies and bragging rights. And many are starting to understand the frustration of clubs who are yet to have a firm salary cap figure to work with for the 2018 NRL season.

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Up to seven clubs, including those that have overspent the initially projected $9.2 million they were told to work with back in April this year, are pushing for an increase to $9.6 million. Clubs at the other end of the spectrum are fighting to keep the originally suggested figure.

The RLPA has not agreed to the $9.2 million figure at this stage, meaning the whole NRL is still waiting for confirmation. It’s frustrating as fans of the game. But for club administrators, the delays are becoming increasingly damaging on the everyday running of a club and the future planning around recruitment and retention.

Bulldogs under pressure

The most public face of the lack of planning framework is clearly the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. The Bulldogs are facing the prospect of shedding established first grade footballers and a slew of second tier talent in order to be salary cap compliant, whilst fitting new signings Kieran Foran and Aaron Woods onto the roster for next season.

While few people will spare too many thoughts for the Bulldogs, particularly if they’ve overshot the presumptive figure by as much as $1 million, it’s hard not to point the finger of blame at both the NRL and the RLPA. They have engaged in a protracted and slow-paced effort to give the clubs a firm figure to work with.

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There are suggestions that the two parties see the October 31 deadline as a long way away so they have plenty of time to sort their differences. This must infuriate those tasked with preparing their playing rosters for next season, especially given the overhaul in talent pathways and squad size already forced upon the clubs.

The divide between clubs

As previously mentioned, there are two clear and divided parties amongst the clubs. The ones that have reportedly overspent are the Bulldogs, the Sharks, Dragons, Roosters and Raiders. Representatives of these clubs met to discuss their issues and stance at Canterbury Leagues Club earlier this week.

Understandably, these clubs are the ones who face the most salary cap stress and would benefit from an increase to the figure in order to keep their rosters together for 2018.

It is no secret that the Bulldogs have made contact with clubs in a bid to offload some high-priced existing players to become compliant and keep their new signings.

Players such as James Graham and Greg Eastwood amongst others have allegedly been told they are surplus to requirements for next season. The reality is that they are under contract and rival clubs could wait as long as possible in order to grab a bargain. The more desperate the Bulldogs become, the more likely they are compromise, meaning other clubs could pick up good, talented players on the cheap.

Those opposed to a further increase

In the other camp, clubs like the Parramatta Eels, Brisbane Broncos, Wests Tigers, Melbourne Storm, Gold Coast Titans, Wests Tigers, Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles and Newcastle Knights are understood to be opposing a raise from the $9.2 million salary cap. These clubs have put together their playing roster for next season based on that figure and may suggest that an increase to help the other clubs would be rewarding over-spending.

Understandably, the clubs that have budgeted and worked towards a salary cap of $9.2 million are not keen to see any relief handed to those who have overshot the mark. They would be keen to snap up players that are made available in a fire sale. Clubs like the Knights and Tigers, with a fair chunk of financial space to work with, could benefit greatly by bringing in high-quality talent at cut-price rates.

The Cowboys and Titans have both voiced their stance in backing the original salary cap figure.

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The NRL is almost split in half with this issue, with only the Penrith Panthers and South Sydney Rabbitohs in the middle of the spectrum. The pair are reportedly ok with a compromise that would see the $300,000 allowance for long-serving players and a $100,000 motor vehicle allowance moved outside of the cap and made more discretionary for the clubs.

Penrith supremo Phil Gould could loom as an influential figure in the move. His opinion is respected amongst the power brokers around the clubs and particularly by his former employer at the Roosters, Nick Politis, who himself remains one of the more powerful figures in the game.

Is there relief around the corner?

Put simply, there has to be.

The clubs cannot continue their planning and preparation, including long-term contract discussions and recruitment decisions, with such uncertainty around the framework they will operate in.

The current state of affairs, with other concerns around the financial management and direction of the game under the control of the current hierarchy at NRL headquarters, continues to make the game look shambolic and unprofessional.

With reports that the NRL has been going to financiers for up to $30 million in loans to continue the development of the game, real questions must be asked about the fiscal responsibility of those who run our game and their vision behind how rugby league can compete in a cluttered sporting landscape.

How do you see the current negotiations panning out? Let us know in the comments below.

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Daniel Lang

Rugby League & Cricket editor at RealSport.

Daniel is a passionate advocate for the game of rugby league and the development of the sport across the world and, as such, writes with a zeal and determination to spread the gospel of the game.

A huge fan of cricket, football, NFL, Tennis and Supercar racing in Australia, Daniel can quickly find himself a casual fan of just about any sport after putting his mind to watching it.

Daniel is also one-half of the hugely successful podcast 'Panthers Weekly with Strawbs & Teach' where he talks all things Panthers Weekly while he also hosts the current affairs show 'the Strawbs Show' and the 'Summer of Cricket with Strawbs & Shnuu' as well as appearing on the Sydney FC covering 'Nothing But Blue Skies' podcast occasionally.

NRL: Salary cap showdown set to ignite

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