Do we need to look after fringe players?

MG Burbank Roar Guru

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From what I’m hearing about the new Collective Bargaining Agreement soon to be ratified by the players’ association and the NRL, it seems a step in the right direction.

We need to ensure that the elite players remain in rugby league. This won’t happen through the use of tired rhetoric about “loyalty”.

But it’s what lies beyond the rise in pay for Origin and Test players that has me asking questions.

Just how much should we take care of the fringe players in our game? The “toilers”? Right now there seems to be some backlash from the lesser players, stemming from a perceived inequality in how they’re being treated in comparison with the game’s elite.

Normally I’d be railing against the injustices of economic inequality and demanding an equal hike in salary for all who play in the NRL.

However, in the fight to keep the best players in the competition, things get a bit murkier. The NRL and RLPA are facing an age-old question: just how much do we take care of those not critical to our success?

Politicians are often criticised by their most fervent supporters for not doing enough for their “base”. Yet the motivation is understandable: their base will always be there, so why expend excess energy and capital on them?

The same goes for league’s journeymen. These are players good enough to qualify regularly for the elite league, yet without the talent or developed skill to be critically important to a team’s success.

They will also always be in plentiful supply.

These are not the people that the fans turn out to watch. They are not the ones who bring long-term success to a team.

So how much should they be paid? If paying the top players stratospheric amounts will keep them in our game, does that justify a growing inequality between those players and their contemporaries?

The discussion over whether or not professional sportspeople are overpaid is for another day. As a teaser, I’ll give myself away: of course they are.

Outside of that, as a league enthusiast I can also say that our administrators need to enact whatever policy is necessary to keep the game’s champions playing in the NRL.

If that means tipping the balance a fraction further in favour of the players who make the game popular (not to mention watchable), I will uneasily get behind that, provided that this rising tide of income coming into the game does in fact continue to lift all boats.

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