NRL players will strike if they’re stuffed around

Matt Cleary Columnist

By Matt Cleary, Matt Cleary is a Roar Expert

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25 Have your say

    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:


    No, “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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    The Crowd Says (25)

    • June 16th 2017 @ 9:55am
      Craig said | June 16th 2017 @ 9:55am | ! Report

      My understanding the players fund is for players to use when they retire. Yes, they’re adults but mostly they are uneducated blokes who can’t manage money. For most of them it’s doing them a favour by not having access to it.

      • Roar Rookie

        June 16th 2017 @ 10:19am
        Dave_S said | June 16th 2017 @ 10:19am | ! Report

        Craig I wouldn’t assume too much in that regard. Yes there are plenty who sometimes make poor choices. But also they have a right to make their own mistakes. And plenty of educated blokes make very poor choices too – spend any amount of time working in and around the ATO and you’ll see it.

        I could see a lot of sense in professional financial services being made available to retiring players – what constitutes a risky investment, how to set up a kid’s education trust fund, etc. Even just basic sensible advice can make a huge difference.

        • June 16th 2017 @ 3:02pm
          Craig said | June 16th 2017 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

          I think it’s a safe assumption that football players aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed. I’m not bagging the blokes, they’re exceptional at what they do and are often great blokes who do wonderful things for our community, but I’m purely pointing out the obvious.

          Sure, everyone makes mistakes. But if you’re going to trust someone with 10k of your money to invest in something, I’d probably lean towards a school teacher, accountant, lawyer, real estate agent before entrusting a footy player.

    • June 16th 2017 @ 10:15am
      kk said | June 16th 2017 @ 10:15am | ! Report

      Ian Prendergast is a smooth talker. So was Norm Gallagher…kinda!

      The mooted liaison between player’s agents and the RLPA needs clarity.

      Every individual at these talks should be concussion tested on arrival.

      If there is no real competition for the TV rights will there be sufficient funds to
      support these demands?

      Until resolved, the size of the Pie in the Sky is guesswork.

      • June 16th 2017 @ 1:20pm
        Albo said | June 16th 2017 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

        Norm Gallagher was more an “action for results” type rather than a sweet talking convincer !
        I would like the discussions held in a public forum so we can see exactly who is who in the zoo here ! I’m still not sure who are good guys and who are the bad guys , but there does seem to be plenty of leeches in the mix ?

        • June 16th 2017 @ 2:30pm
          kk said | June 16th 2017 @ 2:30pm | ! Report

          Don’t feed the animals.

    • June 16th 2017 @ 11:15am
      Uncle said | June 16th 2017 @ 11:15am | ! Report

      The players deserve their cut of the pie. better they waste it then the boffins at NRL central.If the players think that industrial action is what’s required to get their fair share of revenue, good luck to them. But please don’t go the toothless tiger option by striking in nothing events in summer like the world cup or 9’s. Be fair dinkum and show you mean business by skipping an origin or nrl round.

      • June 16th 2017 @ 8:05pm
        Londoner said | June 16th 2017 @ 8:05pm | ! Report

        Nothing events like the World Cup…..Thats a sad comment to hear, but probably reflects how a lot of Aussie Fans feel…..Its a shame as International RL could be a lot more if it was supported by the NRL better.

    • June 16th 2017 @ 11:33am
      Drew said | June 16th 2017 @ 11:33am | ! Report

      Cry me a river…”the bulk of non-origin players only earn $200k a year”. Boo hoo.

      It is crap like this that makes me far more interested in local club teams. Sure the quality isn’t NRL but its passionate, honest and you can buy a tin of XXXX Gold for a fiver, entry is free and there is no gambling advertising.

    • June 16th 2017 @ 12:44pm
      ac said | June 16th 2017 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

      I think this is relevant but i just checked the crowd figures for 2017 -1% on last year. Attendances have collapsed in the NRL over the past few weeks. Maybe the players are not in a positon to ask for more $ if they general public can no longer be bothered supporting the code.

      • June 16th 2017 @ 2:15pm
        Christo the Daddyo said | June 16th 2017 @ 2:15pm | ! Report

        A 1% drop is a “collapse”?!?!

        • June 16th 2017 @ 2:28pm
          Mickyo said | June 16th 2017 @ 2:28pm | ! Report

          It is about 4% on last year, but in Sydney seems to be down much more, horrific crowds in Sydney.

          This time of the year crowds drop again

      • June 16th 2017 @ 10:36pm
        Big Daddy said | June 16th 2017 @ 10:36pm | ! Report

        You can’t blame the players for poor crowds.
        NRL have to take responsibility for poor programming.
        They have sold the public out to channel 9.
        There is no incentive for people to attend because of Thursday night matches and not enough Sunday arvo matches.

    • June 16th 2017 @ 1:01pm
      mushi said | June 16th 2017 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

      “And there’s an estimated $20 million in the fund, which is not earning the players any interest.
      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”

      Um how can both of those statements be correct?

      • June 16th 2017 @ 2:13pm
        Alan said | June 16th 2017 @ 2:13pm | ! Report

        I suspect that the interest earned goes into the NRL’s coffers rather than being credited back to the retirement fund – so yes, both statements can be correct.

        It also means that the value of the fund goes backwards each year by the rate of inflation.

        • June 16th 2017 @ 3:50pm
          Mushi said | June 16th 2017 @ 3:50pm | ! Report

          Actually it depends on if it is legally theirs or not.

          If it’s the way you are saying the players don’t have economic interest in it prior to the qualification.

        • June 17th 2017 @ 10:40am
          Mushi said | June 17th 2017 @ 10:40am | ! Report

          Looking more into it the players are getting the benefits. The promise is to pay X in Y years time.

          First it means at the moment it isn’t the Player’s money. Just like a player doesn’t get to demand interest on the last 4 years of their contract payments.

          Second this means that the NRL will have X / (1+expected compounded return) to invest. So in reality if they are saying you’ll get 10k in say 10 years then the NRL is really only willing to part with far less than that today.

          So players are getting a guaranteed return in a way (like a pension)

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