Benji, what would Dally M do?

p.Tah Roar Rookie

By p.Tah, p.Tah is a Roar Rookie

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    Benji Marshall would be a hit in Super League. (AAP Image/Action Photographic, Renee McKay)

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    The decision by the NRL to block Benji Marshall’s Japanese rugby sabbatical is at odds with the very premise upon which rugby league was born.

    It started at the end of the 19th century. Rugby players from the north of England wanted ‘broken time payments’ to compensate for lost wages when playing or when injured.

    The history is well known to the rugby league faithful. The Rugby Football Union (RFU) in the south wanted to maintain the amateur ethos of the game and refused to allow players to be paid.

    As a result the clubs of the north broke away, forming the Northern Rugby Football Union and soon rugby league began.

    In Australia, the New South Wales Rugby Union was deriving a substantial income from rugby tours yet the players received none of the gate takings.

    The establishment was denying the players an opportunity to maximise their income. It was a ‘bone of contention’ among rugby players and provided an opportunity for an enterprising group to set up rugby league.

    Their master stroke was to recruit the talented Dally Messenger. Soon, rugby league was to become the dominant rugby code in Australia and those that left rugby union were referred to as traitors.

    Looking back from a modern view point it seems short sighted that rugby remained so stubborn. The idea of amateurism appears noble, but was not practical.

    The truth of the matter was that it was never really about the players. It was about power. The north versus the south in England and an enterprising group in Australia who saw an opportunity to make money.

    Fast forward to today. Both rugby union and league are professional sports. Australian rugby league players are well paid but there is an opportunity to make substantially more money by playing rugby union in Japan or France.

    If they leave the game of rugby league, they are referred to as traitors.

    However one enterprising individual, Benji Marshall, wants to remain in rugby league but wants to use the off season to play rugby union in Japan.

    He wants to maximise his income during the short period he can be a professional athlete.

    However, the NRL has blocked the move saying it would breach the salary cap. The salary cap is a convenient road block, but that’s not what it is really about.

    Once again it’s about power.

    Understandably the NRL wants to control the players and they don’t want them ‘defecting’ to a rival. The circumstances are different but are today’s Australian rugby league administrators being as stubborn as the late 19th century rugby administrators?

    If I was working for the NRL I too would have blocked Benji’s move. Most would, so let’s ignore the simplistic analogy of working for Pepsi when you’re contracted to Coke. There is something more here.

    The parallels between the broken time payments and today’s salary cap are eerily similar. The players are upset with the establishment and they want money, but instead of the RFU it’s the NRL and instead of the values of amateurism restricting money, it’s a salary cap restricting the amount of money a player can earn.

    Should a player be able to earn more money or should they up hold the values that are essential to the code?

    If you’re a rugby league supporter, whose side are you on this time, the establishment or the players? What’s more important, the players or the sport?

    Perhaps Benji should ask himself, ”what would Dally M do?”

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    The Crowd Says (26)

    • November 17th 2012 @ 7:10am
      jus de couchon said | November 17th 2012 @ 7:10am | ! Report

      The NRL seem to be picking a fight with rugby union. The demographics in Australia make their case a very strong one if popularity is to be the main reason dete. Using the amature v proffessional schism of 1894 as any reference other than historical to modern [i.e today] relationships between competing codes is Irrelevant. Indeed the NRL is becomming more like the dinnosaurs that once controled Union.

      • November 17th 2012 @ 3:21pm
        MAJB said | November 17th 2012 @ 3:21pm | ! Report

        “Indeed the NRL is becoming more like the dinosaurs that once controlled Union.” I don’t think those dinosaurs have left, otherwise Rugby would have evolved and not got bogged down into 14 plus 1 man rugby that is blighting test Rugby. The recent changes introduced are a half hearted attempt to address a real problem in the convoluted Rugby rules and the changes were driven by the Southern Hemisphere. The Norternh Hemisphere (should say home Unions) did not want these changes. The dinosaurs are still there lurking in their corrupt little world just waiting to take over again, if the new rule changes fail. As for the NRL, this body adopts change to easily ,so I can’t see the dinosaur analogy for League. Too much change is just as bad as too little.

    • November 17th 2012 @ 7:14am
      Crosscoder said | November 17th 2012 @ 7:14am | ! Report

      Congrats pTah on a thought provoking article.

      If Dally was in fact on a paid contract with his ru club ,he would have honoured that contract (as his mother held some influence ).
      And at the end of said contract ,made a decision. His manager also would have suggested that playing a full year of two rugby codes is too taxing on the human body
      .Knowing what his ru admin was like in the amateur days,they would be even more totalitarian in the pro game.

      Dally was playing the amateur game,where the admin grew fat at the expense of the players,and they were not compensated for injury,that would have prevented them losing their jobs or not being paid,as you quite rightly noted.

      When Sailor,Rogers,Tuqiri left the game to play ru,they may have been called traitors by some,but the majority of rl fans got on with life and the crowds and game grew accordingly.Some used to come and watch NRL games(eg Mat Rogers).

      The one defection that got such a large number of people offside was the SBW incident. ie the way it was done.

      I can assure you unlike the early days when Dally M and co were around players & fans did not cross to the other side of the road to avoid contact.Neither was there any threat of losing ones offfield career.Mat Rogers was welcome to Shark Parke whenever he chose to watch a game of NRL.

      According to Tv interviews with his manager of late,he had no intention of Benji playing the off season in Japan ,whilst his current contract was in vogue.The discussion was made in 2009,knocked on the head and nothing of substance has transpired since.

      Benjis shoulder problems of the past have been well documented,he has had the reconstructions,but playing addtional games during the year ,just opens up the chance of further damage.

      The old restraint of trade argument will no doubt be introduced,but I would have thought you can only serve one master in one competing industry at one time. Else I could work for 2 competing Stock Broking firms or ,2 Chartered accounting firms, or 2 Banks in the space of one year ,whilst being on the books of either. one.

      Once Benji,SBW, whoever, have completed their contractual obligations,they can play for whichever code they so please.

      The answer to the last question.The sport is above the individual.The individual has to be protected as they provide the entertainnment,but they are no bigger than the sport.The defections of the few, who went over to ru in recent times,whilst missed,did no impact the game as a whole.

      I also believe we are putting the cart before the horse.The RLPA are presently in deep negotiations with the ARLC on the matter of salary caps for 2014-2017.The eventual outcome of these,could result in a big jump in players salaries,bigger 3rd party opportunities etc. The need to top up elsewhere may be lessened .

      • November 17th 2012 @ 8:14am
        oikee said | November 17th 2012 @ 8:14am | ! Report

        I think it is imperative to stand our ground on the salary cap. Our top players are already earning 1 million a year if you add their sponsers money. Japan rugby seems to be paying way over the top to intice players to Japan, and for what, the Japanese to enjoy a top class comp while homegrown rugby countires get the scraps.
        Rugby League has not even started to increase the Salary cap as yet, and it will go close to doubling over the next 5 years. Now think about that ?
        So in 5 years our top players could be earning double what they are paid now. If we did not have a cap, the game would fall back into a lop-sided powerhouse clubs buying the best players. Clubs like Brisbane and Roosters, probably Storm would be top 4 most of the time, the weaker clubs would be hard pressed to survive.

        This is purely about money, with no thought of player burnout, or injuries that could occur during a never ending season for the players trying to make this sort of money.
        Is Sonny getting paid for sitting around doing nothing.? He is injured, i would hate to paying him 200 thousand a game for doing nothing, or is union in Japan just that desparate to have him on their books, like maybe Bhecham in oz.

        CC, John Grant has now laid down the law and told the reporters and clubs that the commission runs the show, not them, and they wiont be bullied into making rash decisions.
        How good is it to now have leadership of this callibre.
        Plus the bidding for the third Origin game every year, another brilliant idea. You desparate you bid, very high. I think Sydney might win the third Origin game next year. 🙂

        • November 17th 2012 @ 9:38am
          Mr Taylor said | November 17th 2012 @ 9:38am | ! Report

          I don’t think any NRL players are on a million dollar oikee and Japanese companies have the money and can do what they like with it.

          • November 17th 2012 @ 9:59am
            oikee said | November 17th 2012 @ 9:59am | ! Report

            So do Chinese companies. Japan does not rule the roost as once they did.
            If Japan gets out of hand then it is just as easy to introduce the same into the NRL.
            I know who would win that war.
            Thurston and Marshal are both on over 1 million. The accual pay packets might say 700 thousand, but with third party and origin internationals, they are well over the 1 million, and that is before the NRL pay system will go close to doubling over the next 5 years.
            If the NRL got rid of the cap, companies could pay the players what they like, as do the Japanese, which is plain wrong and Australia needs to hang onto the best contests, not have a obsquire country take over the top leagues. Japan is a blight on the codes if anything.

        • November 18th 2012 @ 2:27pm
          p.Tah said | November 18th 2012 @ 2:27pm | ! Report

          Oikee, I tend to agree with you that the ARLC has to stand firm on the salary cap, but not because I think it will create Super Clubs that will dominate. The salary cap is currently in play but for the most part there are the usual clubs languishing at the bottom and the finalists are there pretty much there each year. The cap doesn’t really provide a level playing field from a performance perspective, however what it does do and I think this is more important is stop an arms race and clubs going broke by spending too much to create super teams.

      • November 18th 2012 @ 2:18pm
        p.Tah said | November 18th 2012 @ 2:18pm | ! Report

        Thanks CC, that was the intention of the article (provoke thought).

        As you have said the ARLC will increase the salary cap so most discussion on moonlighting will probably soon be pointless. As the players union is currently in discussion with the ARLC I wonder if these discussions are a ploy to push the salary cap further than where the negotiations are currently at.

    • November 17th 2012 @ 7:53am
      jus de couchon said | November 17th 2012 @ 7:53am | ! Report

      The ramifications of restraint of trade legislation are not yet known. The NRL have chosen to Ignore whatever advice they were given.

      • November 17th 2012 @ 8:58am
        oikee said | November 17th 2012 @ 8:58am | ! Report

        I dont think anyone really has a problem with players moving to other codes. It happens all the time. It becomes annoying when it happens to be your top players. I was going through the NRL season transfer and player movements list the other day. Alot of players move to union.
        The problem i do have is playing all year long after a long NRL season that (including end of year internationals, pre-seaon games, can add up to nearly 10 months.
        I think what the game has to do is make the contracts 1 year, the whole year. If players want to move on after that, well and good. The NRL can insist on a “duty of care” practise to make yearly contracts legit.
        A season in the NRL can be hell on your body, you need downtime.
        Like i said the other day, their seems to be more players retiring earlier, around 30 years of age. The game is alot tougher and getting even tougher. So NRL careers are getting shorter. The game has to make sure player welfair is being looked after.
        They will be paid more cash, they also should not have to play in 2 different codes, in 2 different countries, that can not be good for either code.
        It’s sheer Folly. Let’s just have it said.

      • November 17th 2012 @ 5:01pm
        Crosscoder said | November 17th 2012 @ 5:01pm | ! Report

        The ARLC with some top line business people on board, are hardly going to ignore legal advice.
        Chosen to ignore!!!,sure the new admin loves the idea of litigation.Sheesh.

    • November 17th 2012 @ 9:16am
      allblackfan said | November 17th 2012 @ 9:16am | ! Report

      it’d be interesting to hear a lawyer’s point of view on this.
      If, say, Benji signed a one-year contract which expires at season’s end (ie October) then decided to play rugby in Japan from Nov-Feb then re-sign with the Tigers from, say, March, what business is it of Ian Schubert? Any income Benji makes outside the code in that period can NOT be counted under the NRL salary cap. And if Ian Schubert wants to include it, well, sounds like restraint of trade to me!

      • November 17th 2012 @ 10:09am
        oikee said | November 17th 2012 @ 10:09am | ! Report

        Yes, you are right, but if you read my post you would see that our code has to close this loop-hole with a “duty of care” contract, and extend all contracts to a whole year. So your contract might go from 1st december to 1st december if you sign on.
        This will get rid of any notion of the Sonny Bill’s or Benji’s rtrying to exploit loopholes.
        Ask a lawyer, he would probably say the same thing. Rules can be changed at any time to stop this nonsense, this sheer folly as i call it. Once it becomes folly, you know that is the end of it. Bring in the heavy hitters, our game is not some cashcow for any tom dick or harry, our game is to help everyone across the board, not just the out to exploit mob.
        Benji can go then after his contract expires. Plenty of kids to replace him, no one, and i mean no one is er-replaceable.
        Benji might also find he has trouble coming back on time for a NRL season, if he is still playing Japanese Rugby union come 1st December, he wont be able to sign a league contract. Be careful what they wish for, he might even end up having to learn Fre3nch, for his stint in that league.

        Again, nobody cares about Benji once he leaves OZ, Australians want their own leagues, not some obsquitre nonsense half a world away, how is that supporting our codes. Sheer folly again.l

        • November 17th 2012 @ 12:57pm
          katzilla said | November 17th 2012 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

          Actually Okie, plenty of people will care about Benji when he leaves, as they did SBW.
          They’re called Kiwis, and a fair few of em are League fans also.
          NZ is not a market to be scoffed at and without those 2 players the league profile in NZ would be half of what it currently is.
          One day two players will come along who will give league the same type of profile in NZ, but not as easily replaceable as you make out.
          SBW coming back to the NRL is a huge bonus for the league profile in NZ now that he was an established All Black.
          Benji would be the highest profile NRL player NZ have ever had.

          To casually dismiss both would be folly. Also consider the fact that Benjis role in NZ league and the NRLs presence in NZ will not end with his playing career. I don’t think he really wants to go to Japan, he just wants more money.
          Give it to him, make him happy. The money is there now.

          • November 17th 2012 @ 2:33pm
            oikee said | November 17th 2012 @ 2:33pm | ! Report

            Everyone can be replaced. These 2 guys are not even playing for a NZ team. You seem to make out the Warriors dont even exist.
            Conrad Hurrell and Shane Johnson are the next 2 big superstars. These are the players that rugby league have to make sure are treated right.
            Sonny will probably end up back in union, Benji as i have mentioned recently, will have a huge role to fill in the NRL. he will become the face for NZ hopefully.
            The new Ambassador’s for rugby league are being well choosen. Hasem, Hindmarsh and Petro are carefully selected, huge names in their choosen areas, i can see Benji as that type of role for NZ.
            You would be mad not to use him, and it has probably already been talked about.
            Rugby leagues golden era is about to start now. We have all the cannons loaded, we just need someone to light the fuse.
            As i have said all along, we wont be taking any prisoners, and why should we. Our code has taken everything thrown at it over the last 100 years. Now its our turn to shock and awe as the yanks would say.

          • November 21st 2012 @ 8:18am
            Mr Taylor said | November 21st 2012 @ 8:18am | ! Report

            I take it you don’t live in NZ Oikee, When you do come over you will find a Kiwi by the name of Quade Cooper has a bigger profile in NZ than Benji Marshall and Benji/SBW are well ahead of any other Kiwi/Warriors rugby league player in NZ. Johnson is more famous in NSW and QLD than he is in NZ.

      • November 19th 2012 @ 2:34pm
        B.A Sports said | November 19th 2012 @ 2:34pm | ! Report

        You are probably right, but if players wanted to do that their players association would not be able to stop the NRL clubs and media entities when they say, “we want more games”. Because the only arguement against that was the safety of the players because they play too much football.

        So I don’t see how the RLPA can negotiate anything with the ARLC along the lines of let the players go play o/s in the off season and stop the drive for a 30 round season. And the RLPA won’t have the support of their member base to promote that becaus eonly a handful of players would benefit from playing o/s in an off season.

        And if Benji wants to do that, that is a lot of short contracts, and short contracts don’t offer financial security, which is pretty important when your body is your tool for income.. So take your pick.

    • November 17th 2012 @ 9:41am
      Scott said | November 17th 2012 @ 9:41am | ! Report

      Players already complain that the season is too long. But hey, all of a sudden now were talking about them playing in the of season too. I this were to happen no doubt at all this would affect league in the way the end of season test would see alot of players “unavailable”. Alot of players in the off season have surgery to fix the injuries sustained in the long and taxing season. Not to mention the lack of pre season training as a team would see the first month or so of the season a deadset joke and teams would just be trying to find there feet. I know years ago players would play overseas in the off season but the game has moved forward too much and the level of footy needed to play to not only win but to satisfy the fans is much higher

    • November 17th 2012 @ 9:56am
      MAJB said | November 17th 2012 @ 9:56am | ! Report

      This comment from p.Tah has troubled me because it assumes a premise that there is an intrinsic weakness in the contracts signed by League players. The comment also assumes that prior to the advent of professional Rugby that there was a partially legal obligation for Rugby players to remain with Rugby. When I worked for Colgate I was contracted to work for Colgate at no stage could I continue my work at Colgate whilst moonlighting for their competitor. When I was in the Australian Army I could not dawdle off and fight a war for another organisation, in spite of the money being offer by mercenary agents. It seems to me that the contractual obligations built into current League contracts are fairly tight and that any Player needs permission of his contracted employer to work for another organisation. This is not restraint of trade. When Marshall tried to this several years ago he tried the restraint of trade card and very quickly withdrew when his contract was examined in detail.
      Prior to the professionalization of Rugby all players were free agents and if they chose to could play another sport. In the 1960’s there were several professional cricketers and squash players playing Rugby, without comment. I played Rugby with a couple of English migrant, who we later found out were first division soccer professionals in their better days. Not one comment was made by the administrators. However, there has always been discrimination against those who played League, even though I did play Rugby with blokes who then played league on Sunday. Apart from Williams I do not recall any great angst when Rogers, Reid, Turquiri and Carne came over to Rugby.
      Personally, I do not see any problem with Marshall making extra money in Japan. However, I can understand Leagues position considering it is under siege from the AFL and now Rugby “7”. I think that this is where the League must be seeing it greatest threat, losing its stars to an Olympic sport.

      • November 18th 2012 @ 2:56pm
        p.Tah said | November 18th 2012 @ 2:56pm | ! Report

        MAJB, you raise really good points however I’m not suggesting there is a weakness in the current contracts and it wasn’t my intention to suggest there was a partial legal obligation for players to remain in Rugby during the schism.

        What perhaps I haven’t conveyed is that we look back on the RFU’s actions in the late 19th Century as been stubborn. We don’t have a genuine understanding of the thoughts of those during those times and what amateurism really meant to those involved. But I would hazard a guess it was extremely important. Those on the rugby union side believed it would corrupt the game and bring its undoing. The consequences to those who didn’t obey amateurism rules were that they were banned from the game. For some that was a pretty serious threat because the game was part of their social and family life.

        We look back from a modern view point and point out the professionalism probably wouldn’t have caused undoing, in fact Rugby League grew strongly in England and Australia on the back of professionalism. Most us would say that amateurism in rugby is a noble but antiquated belief., but that’s our thoughts based in 21st century thinking.

        Today we look at the contracting system and the salary cap and say that they are critical for the survival of the game, but are they? I would say that they are, but that’s my 21st century view point. Will those in the future look back on the adherence to contracts and salary caps as being noble but antiquated. Yes a contract is a legal obligation in today’s society but who knows how will be it
        viewed in sport in the future? Possibly the same as today’s, but this is just a philosophical discussion. Perhaps the ARLC (or any other football ruling bode for that matter) decision to stop Code hopping and impose a salary cap will be viewed as short sighted and stubborn. Just a thought.

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