Origin bonuses should be outside the cap
Queensland player Brent Tate punches NSW player Greg Bird in the head during State of Origin 3 at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Wednesday, July 4, 2012 (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
The official NRL website states that the NRL Salary Cap ‘assists in “spreading the playing talent” so that a few better resourced clubs cannot simply out-bid not so well resourced teams for all of the best players’.
However, is this good for the future of the game?
Today, I am going to focus on the State of Origin bonus.
Due to the collective bargaining agreement struck in 2006, Origin payments are set at $12,500 per game. If a player plays the whole series, he is set to earn an extra $37,500.
However, this bonus does have some influence on the club salary cap. The NRL Salary Cap Auditor calculates any bonus contained in a player’s contract in his club’s salary cap based on the player’s performance from the prior year.
So if a player played State of Origin last year, he would be assumed to have been selected again this year. The bonus payments for this year would already be included in the club’s salary cap even though he may or may not play Origin this year.
You can see a potential issue with this line of thinking. What if the player is just a one hit wonder?
This will particularly disadvantage clubs who have groomed solid young players that were picked for a particular year but their inconsistencies led to them being omitted later on. Or, what about good role players who only got shuffled in due to injuries; take Josh Dugan, Anthony Minichello and Keith Galloway as examples.
These guys virtually had no chance of making the 2012 squad, but their club still had to deduct Origin payments off their 2012 salary quota.
How is this fair?
For clubs that produce multiple Origin players, this provision is particularly harsh. In 2011, five Brisbane players, excluding Darren Lockyer who retired after the season, were selected for the Queensland squad. This amounted to $175,000 being earned that year.
Under the provision, this would effectively go towards Brisbane’s 2012 cap. That amount can pay for three players on NRL minimum wage, or one maybe two fairly good players.
NRL formulates the provision in this manner to make it tough for clubs that have a number of Origin players to retain them when their contracts are up. This often forces them to let these players move on, thus ensuring Origin hopefuls are spread between clubs.
However, clubs should be awarded for producing in form players that get picked for Origin, not punished.
This is particularly disadvantageous for clubs that focus on developing young players who are on relatively cheap contracts. For example James Tamou is going to cost the Cowboys $37,000 next year, that might not seem a lot but when you take into account his contract status, but the sum would still have a certain impact on Cowboys’ negotiation approach.
As expected, Tamou would command a much larger salary than he was previously on before he made it big. When you coupled his inflated price tag with the bonus, the Cowboys may have to shed another player in order to fit below the cap.
With this system, is there an incentive for clubs to groom young stars if retaining them is just going to cost as much as pursuing established young stars from other clubs? Is this thinking beneficial to player development within the league?
This provision also gives rise to another trend. Clubs are now more willing to sign young players from New Zealand because of their ineligibility to Origin. Take the Sydney Roosters, in their 25 men squad at the start of the year, 10 of them are playing for other countries, with most of them under the age of 25.
The upside of having that many young foreign players is that even if they are playing well, the club doesn’t need to worry about them getting selected for Origin, thus putting unnecessary stress on the salary cap.
Clubs may not exactly be reluctant to sign players eligible for Origin, but you have to agree that the front offices are certainly aware of the situation.
Youth development is essential for the future of any sports. If foreign players are preferred over local youngsters, these local talents might choose to play another sport instead.
For a sport that is currently battling other codes in Sydney’s west, you can’t help but wonder if they are making the right move.