http://www.smh.com.au/rugby-league/...by-thirdparty-agreements-20180219-h0wayc.html Third party agreements represent a minuscule proportion of total payments to players and are declining quickly, according to figures released by the NRL in an attempt to quell the widespread suspicion these arrangements between sponsors and players are distorting the salary cap. In other words, TPA deals are no big deal, says the NRL, whose data shows the total size of the TPA market in 2017 was $9.6 million across 198 players, down from $11 million in 2015. Arms Length Agreements (ALAs) – the potentially rortable TPAs where the club, ostensibly, has no role in arranging the sponsorship – represent 53 per cent of total TPAs. The other half consists of the 20 per cent allocated to the now abandoned marquee player agreement (up to $600,000 per club allowed to be spent on top players), 8 per cent tools of the trade (boots) and 19 per cent from "whole of game" sponsors, such as Telstra. In 2018, 75 per cent of the private sector ALAs – not including government and community funding of players, or companies providing them with cars, or appearance fees – will represent only 2.65 per cent of the top-30 player salary cap of approximately $150 million. This data undermines the hyperbole around TPAs, where Parramatta justified their $4 million in salary cap breaches over five years on the basis they believed the Broncos were spending the same amount on TPAs, registered and illicit. Ironically, the punishment of Parramatta has seen a halving over two years in TPAs as a percentage of the salary cap – from 13.1 per cent in 2016 to 6.4 per cent in 2018. Furthermore, the NRL argue TPAs are fulfilling the purpose of providing additional income for elite representatives who promote the code, rather than being club-arranged top-ups to retain players. A quarter of the registered private sector TPAs of $3.76 million last year went to two players, 50 per cent to eight players and 75 per cent to 19 players across 11 clubs, while 43 players received $10,000 or less. Further justification for the close relationship between ALAs and elite players is the statistic that 83 per cent of the private sector payments in 2017 were directed to State of Origin players and tier-one Test nation players. The Storm, Broncos and Panthers dominate private sector TPAs. TPAs to Storm, Queensland and Australian captain Cameron Smith and his teammate Billy Slater account for most of the Melbourne figure and are justified in terms of the code's need to expose the game nationally and in Melbourne. Brisbane's Sam Thaiday receives government and community payments to promote Indigenous causes, with the Panthers' five-eighth James Maloney and Titan Bryce Cartwright also receiving generous sponsorships. Because Smith, Slater and Thaiday will soon retire, the total TPA amount risks falling away alarmingly. The NRL does not identify the clubs that are basically unrepresented in the TPA market. The Roosters have hired former NRL chief salary cap cop, Ian Schubert, to audit their books, the clearest indication yet they have nothing to hide. After all, Schubert, a former Roosters international, was told during his time when he charged the Bulldogs and Storm for salary cap breaches, that he hasn't achieved anything "until he catches Nick". Roosters chair Nick Politis has persistently said his club manages its cap better than most and the NRL presumably agrees. Unless Schubert, whose forensic examination of books so angered clubs they agitated for former NRL CEO Dave Smith to sack him, gets Stockholm Syndrome (falling in love with your captors), the Roosters are in the clear. The real danger is Sydney clubs will quote the halving of total private ALAs as a percentage of the salary cap – 5 per cent in 2016 and 2.5 per cent in 2018 – as evidence all TPAs should be banned. This would deprive elite players of additional income and undermine the need to market the code. The NRL has foreshadowed a discussion with clubs on the issue, including a debate on the level of public disclosure of payments to players. No data is available for the illicit TPAs – the ones not registered with the NRL because they are sourced by the club and are the cause of any major distortion of the salary cap. The NRL argue they can't be significant, claiming the salary cap is working because 75 per cent of NRL teams have won a premiership since 2000, compared to 56 per cent in the AFL, 53 per cent in Super Rugby and 38 per cent in the NFL. Furthermore, NRL executives maintain that if illicit TPAs were rampant, there would have been more cases surface by now. Basically, illicit TPAs are exposed in three main ways – the player reports the club because the money is not paid; a spouse reports the player during a dispute over a property settlement, or the player boasts about the arrangement, even promoting a product on social media. But, if a wealthy club director, plays a golf game with a prospective recruit and bets him $100,000 he can't sink a 5cm putt, there is nothing the NRL can do.