NRL players will strike if they’re stuffed around

Matt Cleary Columnist

By , Matt Cleary is a Roar Expert

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    As we move once again into Stop Everything It’s Origin Time – the most wonderful time of the year – the mighty Indian elephant still swaying about with Zoochosis in the mahogany meeting rooms of League Central is this:

    The players’ demands for mo’ money

    What do they want? A percentage share of revenue.

    When do they want it? After the next collective bargaining agreement.
    Or now. Now would be good.

    But they won’t get it now because the NRL says it doesn’t have the coin, and it says its willing to open the books to prove it. Plus there’s the clubs who want more money.

    The players’ union had a private meeting the other day with NRL (and clubs) from which RLPA CEO Ian Prendergast emerged.

    “The RLPA welcomed the information and remain committed to ensuring players receive a fair outcome out of the negotiations,” he said.

    “All parties are treating the negotiations seriously and respectfully and we look forward to making further progress in the weeks ahead,” NRL Chief Operating Officer Nick Weeks added.

    So nothing happened. They laid their cards on the table. Eye-balled one another. Pissed for distance. And went away with their lawyers and accountants to plan strategy.

    Thus it’ll be a drawn-out process. And in the end the players, if they don’t get what they want, will mention the “S” word:

    Sex.

    No, “strike.”

    S-s-s-strike?

    Yes – s-s-s-strike.

    Granted it’s a last resort. But it is a resort. A very bad resort. Like Great Keppel Island after they changed their motto from “Get Wrecked on Keppel” to “Don’t Come Here The Pools Are Green With Algae And The XXXX is $10 a Tin.”

    Strike action would be like that. A very bad island off Yeppoon.

    And yet, within the RLPA – the voice of all players – there’s a solid core group of men prepared to stand up and say they’re not happy with how it is.

    James Maloney is one. Cam Smith. Johnathan Thurston. The enigmatic Cooper Cronk. Heavy hitters. Cynics. Blocks, they’ve been around them.

    And if the NRL is fool enough to disrespect, partronise, and not give them a fair suck of the old Heinz dead-horse bottle, if these cynical heavy-hitting enigmas believe that strike action – or at least the threat of it – is the only significant thing the NRL will take seriously, then that’s what’ll happen. Not ideal. But if they feel they have no choice…

    What the players want is to be dealed in at the big table.

    James Maloney of the Sharks

    (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

    As it is players are “put forward” to media in front of plastic sheets full of sponsors to mouth platitudes.

    It bores them, it bores the journos, and it bores you, footy consumer type. And that can’t be good. It isn’t good.

    They’re greedy? They’re not, according to Maloney, Smith, Thurston and Cronk, they just want a fair go. And coming from these guys it resonates. Not just because they’re statesmen. But they’re at the end of their playing days.

    Thurston and Smith are in to bat for their mates who do the same hard yards at training but aren’t superstars who can set themselves up for life. Any benefit from a percentage share of revenue will benefit the majority of players, the kids, the bushies, the greater rump of non-Origin guys on $200k.

    Bottom line: using players as stars to promote games get bums on seats. And now the stars want a cut.

    Appearance money for stars to promote golf tournaments works a bit like it.

    One way it would work is for the NRL to have their normal budget and salary cap, and a prediction how much they’ll make by year’s end. And they would distribute money through salary cap, welfare, education, retirement fund, all that.

    And at the end of the year if the NRL can point to an extra $20 million, say, part of that would be divvied around the players. The players – all of them – would see a tangible return. Players would be invested in it.

    Consider the players’ retirement fund. If you play four or more games a season you get $10,000 in your fund. About 30 players a year debut, play four games. It’s been running five years. And there’s an estimated $20 million in the fund, which is not earning the players any interest.

    Rather it’s held by NRL who “manage” it. Shouldn’t it be the players? Shouldn’t RLPA control it?

    Shouldn’t players be able to individualise their own nest-egg? Like a self-managed super fund? As it stands it’s earning interest – but the players aren’t seeing it.
    It’s not seen by NRL as the players’ money.

    Consider transitioning from full-time player on good money to “normal” person on normal money. It’s hard for players. We fans might scoff – “Please. Get a job, hippy.”
    But it’s a thing. Players enjoy a lifestyle, a standing in the community, a feeling of who they are – footballer.

    And each weekend they are thrilled and thrilling on a big stage. It’s a heady rush. And when they’re done, they’re done. They’re left cold turkey.

    The retirement fund helps players “breathe.” They can do a course, get a qualification.

    RLPA wants welfare and education grants to go up to help players get educated throughout their career. It’s getting better. But guys need to be aware, time’s a factor.

    Footy is full on. When players get time off you want to spend it with family, or just relax.

    Footballers weren’t always the best kids at school. They’re aren’t many accountants among them. There are guys doing courses, but it’s not easy. Footy comes first, it’s their major thing.

    All that stuff, part of the CBA. Part of the RLPA’s demands for a cut. But industrial action? A strike? Really?

    “It’s the last thing we want,” said one senior player. “That’s not good for anyone. But we also don’t want to be stuffed around and not taken seriously.”

    Matt Cleary
    Matt Cleary

    Matt Cleary is a sports writer from Sydney. He enjoys golf, footy and Four Pines Pale Ale, and spends as much time as conscience allows at Long Reef GC. Tweet him @journomatcleary, or read him at his website.

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