The Roar
The Roar

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The column you write when you're not writing a column

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Expert
23rd April, 2019
11

I’ve got a column in me about Israel Folau and all that. But the aftermath of Easter doesn’t seem the right time to write it and this probably isn’t the right place.

I reckon I’ve also got a column in me about Phil Gould leaving Penrith. But he’s such a blood enigma I can’t get my mental ducks lined up to write it.

One of them quacks or waddles or otherwise steps out of line every time I try to type the first word.

I don’t like blokes at dummy half throwing the ball into defenders to get an offside penalty, as is happening in Super League at the moment. I liked Aussie ref Matt Rossleigh’s decision to penalise it in the Championship the other day.

But that subject is obscure and rather boring – and, breaking news, they just amended to rules to fix it anyway.

I loved the fact that Mark Evans, bass player in the classic line-up of AC/DC, was shown on Fox wearing a Parramatta jersey and lining up a drop goal surrounded by kids on the field at Bankwest Stadium on Monday!

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Maybe I could tie that in with the teams being named for the World Cup Nines at the same venue in October. Are they the teams that should be competing? Once more, Nines is very niche – although I will bore you with some columns about it in future.

What I’ve settled on is a subject I heard Jon Wilkin discuss on the weekly BBC podcast yesterday.

Wilkin, the former England international who now plays for Toronto, suggested that the best way for the British game to enjoy a renaissance would be to scrap the salary cap.

This is quite a common refrain in Britain, where the sporting landscape is dominated by the Premier League, in which there are no such restrictions.

Wilkin, a very eloquent and thoughtful man, said that the salary cap was intended to even up the competition but still only four sides have ever won Super League.

Therefore, he argued, the salary cap was a failure. So far, so familiar. But he added another dimension to his argument by saying good sides should be dismantled by the cap, yet in all his time with a very successful St Helens side he never received a really serious offer to join a lower club.

Good players filtered to the top clubs and stayed there even after they won silverware, which should not happen. The salary cap in Super League had failed to have an equalising effect.

Well, Wigan and Leeds are currently in the bottom four, so perhaps the salary cap ship is finally coming in.

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But the pattern Wilkin describes suggests that the cap is not working properly.

One reason could be nefarious: 14 teams have had points deducted for salary cap breaches in the UK since 2001. Wigan beat a deduction on appeal only earlier this year. Players are staying at top clubs for less – that sometimes suggests what in Sydney are referred to as ‘the McDonalds car park’.

Hull FC rugby  league fans generic crowd

Would Hull FC fans be keen on the removal of a salary cap? (AAP Image/Craig Golding)

Another could be financial: clubs all get the same grant out of television money but spend it different ways, meaning the first-team squads are not of the same real or imagined value across the board. Some clubs can’t afford marquee players.

And it’s a legitimate question whether fans in Britain want parity anyway or whether they would prefer to have Wigan, St Helens, Leeds and Warrington scoring 50-point wins against the rest each weekend. When discussing this, it’s important to take into account the differences in the actual sports between soccer and rugby league.

In soccer, 4-0 is probably 50 or 60-0. But if your team is on the receiving end, which result makes you feel worse? What result would most discourage you from coming back next weekend?

When people in either hemisphere talk about scrapping the salary cap, I always have apocalyptic visions of huge scores, clubs going broke, a concentration of teams in places where there are no fans but rich people and the reverse – no full-time pro teams in cities and towns that live and breathe the game.

Because rugby league flourishes in poor places.

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I don’t agree with Jon that no salary cap will result in a better spectacle. If Leeds were to sign 13 NRL stars, does that mean they would win 100-0 in an entertaining fashion or just by scoring 20 tries running right over the top of their opposition?

The shortest way to the try line is the best, after all.

Overall it’s difficult to see how removing the salary cap would increase revenue in Britain.

That’s the reason the real value of Jon’s pay packet has decreased. In the social media age the focus on the Premier League has multiplied while the partial collapse of traditional media has seen fringe and regional sports like rugby league receive less coverage.

In an atomised age for public life, only the biggest stars and properties can survive. They get bigger through the magnifying glass of 24-hour digital scrutiny. The rest gets lost in the white noise.

The best hope for British rugby league probably lies where Jon is right now, in Toronto. This weekend he plays his first home game for his new club on the other side of the Atlantic.

London Broncos defeat Toronto Raptors to make it back into the Super League.

Will Toronto bring more cash to the Super League? (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

New audiences, sponsors and broadcasters have the potential to wake British rugby league from its torpor.

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While I’ve been critical of clubs for parochialism in the past, they were impressively progressive when they voted to allow the RFL to keep talking to prospective new sides Ottawa and New York.

But when you consider how little is known about the investors in either club and how sketchy the details of the bids are, they may be more than aware of the issues detailed above and therefore outward-looking and progressive.

They may just be desperate.