Let me make something clear from the outset. It feels absurd to be defending the Roosters.
As a Bulldogs fan that grew up, went to school and played junior league in the Eastern Suburbs I’ve always had a special bit of enmity for the red, white and blue-sters.
The Bulldogs played the Roosters in the first grand final I fully remember watching in 1980. I felt like the lone Bulldog supporter in the East as grand final fever gripped the suburbs.
The rivalry peaked in the early 2000s when the Roosters won the comp that the Bulldogs ‘should’ have won if not for their flagrant rorting of the 2002 salary cap.
Then there were the ‘grand final that should have been’ games through 2003. The Dogs got the early points in round nine with Brent Sherwin masterfully setting up the match winner for Matt Utai. The Roosters won the biggest game that season though defeating the Dogs 28-18 in the preliminary final.
The Dogs got their revenge in the 2004 grand final, which had a particularly ferocious build up.
Then in the mid 2000s the Roosters plundered the Bulldogs line-up signing premiership winners Willie Mason, Braith Anasta, Mark O’Meley and future Origin and test star Nate Myles in quick succession.
The point is, I’m not an apologist for the Roosters. They’re a team that I fluctuate between loving to hate and just hating.
As footy fans we all lead with our heart but even allowing for that there’s a hell of a lot of innuendo and invective (much of it factually incorrect) floating around at the moment that’s becoming a self fulfilling feeding frenzy that the Roosters are destroying the 2018 salary cap.
So I’m gritting my teeth, putting 37 years of rivalry aside and coming up with five reasons why I don’t think the Roosters are over the cap in 2018.
1. The cap has increased by $2.4M
The salary cap has increased from $7M in 2017 to $9.4M in 2018. The 2018 base salary cap will be $9.1M with a $100K car allowance and a $200K veteran/development player allowance.
Basically, that’s Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco right there, with change.
It’s not that simple, of course as clubs have been anticipating a big increase and have been back ending contracts and building salary increases to reflect the cap into contracts.
We do know that some clubs (looking at you Bulldogs) have handled this process poorly. Is there a chance, just a chance that the Roosters have seen this coming and managed the situation well, rather than just resorting to cheating?
Either way a $2.4M increase in the salary cap is by far the largest increase in the NRL’s history. To put it In perspective the last time the cap increased by $2.4M took five years from 2012 ($4.4M) to 2017 ($7M).
Prior to 2012 it took 14 years for the cap to increase by $1.15M from $3.25M in 1998.
This is a gigantic leap forward in player spend and it’s not surprising to me that there are clubs that have money to spend on players and not surprising at all that one of those clubs is arguably the most professionally run rugby league club in the country.
2. The players they’ve let go
I read the other day that the Roosters had “swapped Kenny-Dowall and Pearce for Tedesco and Cronk, how is that fair?” Of course it wouldn’t be but it’s just not true.
Among the players the Roosters have let go for 2018 are 21-Test player Shaun Kenny-Dowall, NSW’s most capped Origin halfback Mitchell Pearce, Test and ten Origin player Aiden Guerra, former Origin player Michael Gordon, rising star Connor Watson and experienced forward Kane Evans.
I’ve deliberately talked up their CVs to suit my argument. None of the veterans are at the top of their game but they would all have still been on decent money as part of their most recent contracts. No doubt Pearce would still have been on very good money. That’s six top 17 regulars released in one season.
That’s a massive turnover. I’d estimate the combined minimum these players would be receiving would be $2M.
The Roosters have also let Liam Knight and Paul Carter leave the club, although neither of those guys will be troubling the accountants.
When you put this $2M on top of the $2.4M salary cap increase, I don’t understand why people are so immediate to jump to rorting to explain the signatures of Tedesco and Cronk.
The Roosters other signings for 2018 are Joshua Curran, Dean Matterson and Reece Robinson.
3. The rest of the Roosters squad
There’s a lot of focus on the top end of the Roosters squad – not so much on the other end. The Roosters have a lot of big names at the big end but they have a long tail too.
Among the Cronks, Tedescos, Friends, Cordners and JWHs is a long list of players either yet to play NRL or yet to establish themselves.
Among the Roosters top 30 squad for next year are Nat Butcher, Lindsay Collins, Mitch Cornish, Poasa Faamausili, Brendan Frei, Grant Garvey, Joseph Manu, Dean Matterson, Paul Momirovski, Sean O’Sullivan, Victor Radley and Chris Smith.
That’s a lot of players in a 30 man squad with minimal experience and more importantly soaking up minimal salary cap spend. Most of those players will be on the NRL minimum of $120,000.
After releasing the players listed above, the experience level in the Roosters squad drops off steeply outside the top 17 players. Even a normal distribution of injuries, suspensions and rep duties will see the Roosters fielding a lot of rookies.
If they have an injury crisis, they will be leaning heavily on untested players.
4. Angus Crichton hasn’t signed on until 2019
“This is getting ridiculous how can they sign Tedesco, Cronk and now Crichton and still be under the cap?”
That was something else I read this week but again it’s completely non-factual and emotional. At this stage Crichton won’t be playing for the Roosters until 2019. He just doesn’t come into consideration for the 2018 cap.
Here’s the kicker though…given all of the above, if Souths make the mad decision to release Crichton I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Roosters had room to fit him into their 2018 cap, possibly on a back ended deal.
5. The Roosters do good business
Love them or hate them, you can’t deny the Roosters are one of the most professionally run sporting organisations in the country. They went through some tough times from the mid 80s to the mid 90s. Since then, they’ve been one of the most consistent and successful teams in the competition. That doesn’t happen by accident.
I always think the mark of a good club is how they cope with hard times. Poorly run clubs go into a 20 year tail spin and complain about TPAs, free-to-airs, junior concessions, scheduling, etc, etc and point the finger at anyone or anything in range as to why they’ve gone down the gurgler, simultaneously lurching from one disaster to the next.
Then there are clubs who when they are down, close ranks, keep quiet and make the hard decisions. For these clubs tough times don’t tend to last more than a season or two. The Roosters are definitely in the latter group.
Other clubs fans like to speak of Uncle Nick and his mythical brown paper bags, but he’s a long standing successful businessman inside and outside of sport. He’s set up a club that attracts high profile, successful businessmen to it.
How many ex-players do you see running the Roosters on the basis that they’re favourite sons? Not many. The Roosters get players to play and businessmen to do business. The rest of us point to their success and say “they’ve got to be cheating…”
It’s poor sportsmanship to the point of grubbiness.
Having said all of the above…who really knows? When the Storm got busted it was only hindsight that made it obvious. At the time, the narrative was about how many quality players the Storm were shedding year on year to stay under the cap.
No one saw the Bulldogs cap scandal coming.
But on balance I think there’s far more evidence that the Roosters are under the cap for 2018 than smashing it to pieces as the common narrative would have us believe.