Hours after sending shudders through the NRL, red-faced Test captain Cameron Smith on Tuesday shied away from his claim players would “knock back” the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement on offer.
In a backflip that may rival anything on offer in Saturday night’s All Stars clash in Brisbane, Smith did his best to ease concerns over the 2013 season proper beginning without a salary cap after receiving an update on talks from Rugby League Players’ Association (RLPA) CEO David Garnsey.
Melbourne’s premiership-winning skipper raised eyebrows when he told Sky Sports Radio on Tuesday morning that the CBA tabled by the ARL Commission “is going to get knocked back”.
By the time he arrived for the official All Stars team photo at Suncorp Stadium, Smith had another stunning admission – he was “out of the loop”.
“I had an extended break compared to other players in the competition. I was out of the loop there for a while but we have moved on in our negotiations,” he said.
“I obviously spoke on radio this morning about that. Since then I have had a chat with David Garnsey and he has given me an update and we are a lot closer to agreeing than I believed we were.
“My comments were based on discussions we had around just before the break.”
Smith was as quick to dismiss any talk of of the NRL season start being in jeopardy due to the drawn out salary cap talks.
“There was talk before the Christmas break that this game was going to be boycotted,” he said.
“The players were never going to boycott this game.
“It’s a great start to the year. It’s important for the NRL and the community – that’s what this game is about, getting the community involved.
“I just want to clarify that we are heading in the right direction and that we are a lot closer than I believed we were – it’s good to hear.”
The ongoing talks have frustrated some of the NRL’s biggest stars like Cowboys halfback Johnathan Thurston who are waiting for a salary cap to be finalised before re-igniting contract talks.
But Smith believed players should be patient, saying the new CBA was about looking after the game’s “generation next” not topping up current NRL stars’ pay packets.
“It’s pretty important. Not so much for players like me but guys who are starting their careers, the kids starting the game,” he said.
“It would have been nice to have been done by now but it is a pretty detailed agreement.
“It is a lengthy agreement. We are looking at five years and it is something that can’t be done overnight.”
The ARLC have offered to lift the NRL salary cap from $4.4 million to $5.8 million this season, gradually rising it over the next five years until $7 million by 2017 and increasing the marquee player allowance from $300,000 to $550,000.
“Everyone knows the figure we are after and the NRL have been great to work with to be honest, working hard with the RLPA,” Smith said.
“I am confident we can get something done and we can kick off the year.”