‘I’m not that stupid’: Why some players aren’t sticking their heads up in NRL pay dispute
Chief Sports Writer
January 27, 2023 — 5.44am
Earlier this week, I asked a veteran rugby league player when he was going to stick his head above the parapet and get involved in the dispute between the NRL and RLPA over, well … who knows anymore?
Money, power, whether there should be still or sparkling water in the tearoom.
“I’m not that stupid,” the player smiled. “That’s one battle you can’t win.”
If the NRL and RLPA don’t start conceding inches, which is the whole point of negotiation, over their collective bargaining agreement (CBA), this is a battle that will never end. It will just go on and on until everyone’s dead.
Some players are talking tough about going on strike if their demands aren’t met. The players, united, on $320,000 a year, will never be defeated!
As the season edges nearer, we’re about to see just how firm they are on those inflammatory remarks.
Presumably, mooted strike action includes the All Stars match in Rotorua on February 11. Presumably, they’re prepared for the vicious backlash they will feel if they don’t attend such an important cultural fixture.
No, they’ll hit a soft target — like the NRL’s fancy new pre-season competition.
Let’s call this pay dispute out for what it really is: a clash of egos between NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo
and RLPA counterpart Clint Newton
ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys
is the third wheel, of course, and you suspect if he got involved sooner this whole thing could’ve been avoided. Then again, he does relish a fight.
V’landys’ problem is he’s left it to Abdo to hatch a deal and the former commercial officer has proven incapable of getting it done.
Abdo’s predecessors, David Gallop
and Todd Greenberg
, had their faults but maintained a strong relationship with the playing group.
Gallop famously held a conference at Coogee’s Crowne Plaza in 2007 to walk the players through the game’s financials. It was a farce
— half the players didn’t even know the meeting was on and those who did lob were wearing thongs and boardies — but the deal got done.
Greenberg ended the last CBA stand-off by breaking bread with Storm captain Cameron Smith
over dinner, probably by candlelight. Now on the other side of the fence for the Australian Cricketers’ Association, he’s playing Cricket Australia off a break.
The problem is Abdo views the world through a commercial lens while Newton will tell you all about the lens and what that lens means to rugby league with indecipherable corporate babble without taking a breath.
There’s so much misinformation being leaked it’s impossible to pick a side, but the palpable distrust between the two parties can be summed up neatly in one conversation involving a manager and his player just before Christmas.
On December 23, the NRL announced a salary cap increase from $9.6 million to $12.1 million. It was a Christmas Miracle!
“Hey bruz,” the manager said. “After that salary cap increase, you’re now getting an extra $260,000 over the next three years. Merry Christmas.”
On the surface, the player should be buying V’landys and Abdo lunch for rest of their lives. The truth is, Santa only came down the chimneys of a select few.
The player had a ratchet clause, which many of the top players can negotiate into their deal but those at the bottom end cannot. The managers can easily sell how good the deal is — because they’re taking a 6 per cent commission.
It was also dirty pool from the NRL because the media release dropped without consultation with the RLPA and immediately painted those who pushed back on it as greedy.
The NRL might be winning the public relations battle, but that move eroded any remaining “good faith” it had with the playing group.
Subsequently, both parties are squabbling over hardship and retirement funds, agreement rights and projected revenue.
The retirement and hardship funds are worth having. Each time an emotional story runs about a player on hard times, or struggling from dementia caused by too many head knocks, fans bleat about the game not doing enough. Big-ups to the players for being passionate about guaranteeing this money.
But even on something as fundamentally good as this, the NRL and RLPA can’t get on the same page.
A News Corp story ran on Wednesday claiming the NRL had offered $200 million for those funds. Newton blew up when he read it, called the reporter, and claimed it was $15 million. That’s some discrepancy.
The RLPA says it wants to control the funds. The NRL says it will have a subcommittee with 50 per cent representatives split down the middle. Tomayto, tomahto? Still or sparkling?
Honestly, it’s like listening to the Hatfields and McCoys.
Newton has said he would be open to all parties getting in a room to work things out. Maybe they should’ve got a room six months ago.
Here’s some advice for free, in corporate-speak: all parties need to stop boiling the ocean, open the kimono, trim the fat and get a frikkin’ deal done.