NRL players tread on shaky ground

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Australia’s elite rugby league players need to be careful in their negotiations for their new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Few people would be against NRL players being paid what they are worth and receiving their fair share of the game’s revenue. They, and the fans, are the game and without them there is no game.

It’s that simple.

But talk of strikes and delays to the start of the season can only hurt their cause.

Comparisons can be made to America and the lockouts that have occurred in the NHL, NBA and MLB in recent years until your blue in the face. But we are not the United States.

The NRL exists in a much smaller and much more competitive market. It is effectively a two-state sport with a relatively small participation rate compared with the big ratings, media profile and audience figures it generates.

The NRL is thriving at the moment, but it has been a long path to get to this stage.

Those with short memories will have forgotten the dramas of the mid-1990s when rugby league was torn apart and the introduction of Super League caused chaos. All of the gains made in the previous decade or so before that, including expansion, were lost.

Players received ridiculous sums, clubs went under and the game spent millions that it never got back on a war that was detrimental and painful to all involved.

Today’s NRL players are more professional and play in a sport that is more popular nationwide.

But they must remember that while some parts of the rugby league structure are sound, such at the top, is not necessarily the case at the bottom.

Bush footy is struggling and competitions like the NSW Cup battle for relevance. Participation levels are way behind the likes of AFL, cricket and football and more development officers are needed.

Virtually every NRL club apart from Brisbane is in some sort of financial pain. Stadium suitability issues stain the competition.

Margins are tight and debt is commonplace.

I believe the NRL salary cap should be increased, as well the marquee player allowance. A decent minimum wage should set as well as a retirement fund.

But to increase the salary cap to $7 million by 2017 seems a step too far.

Monumental and strategic growth is needed, not increases that threaten stability.

Rugby league is enjoying a boon in broadcast and sponsorship fees at the moment. But for the sport to prosper in the future we must ensure all areas of the game are looked after, not just the players.

Follow John on Twitter @johnnyddavidson

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