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Are injury retirements a way of beating the salary cap?

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Roar Guru
31st October, 2019
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Rugby league clubs have always looked at ways of taking advantage of the rules.

Coaches are expert at it but it extends further than that with clubs willing to do anything – including bending the rules – to get ahead.

That is what we are seeing with medical retirements.

Nine months ago when Greg Inglis was allowed to retire from the game due to injury. This was something that was unfathomable for most at the time other than to those who knew him well and saw it coming.

Others in the game knew more would be to follow. Within the same year we have two of the greats of the game, Sam Burgess and Michael Gillett, waving good bye.

No-one is questioning that they are injured and that they have been given medical advice that they should not go on.

I guess the question is whether this is unexpected – and should their clubs have to foot the bill within the salary cap?

Anthony Watmough at the Parramatta Eels was likely the first case to test this area but that was when a club was attempting to medically retire him and the player himself was willing (in mind anyway) to keep playing.

In these recent cases, it is the club and player who are side by side, saying this is a new injury and it has ended the career and the player is unable to go on.

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The silent part of the announcement? Please keep paying him and take his salary off our salary cap while we pursue a younger, more physically able replacement.

Don’t get me wrong in that these are great players and the clubs of course would love them to continue forever at their best but the fact of the fact is they are no longer able to do so.

“Look, have a rest. Put the feet up. You have been a great player and having nothing else to prove. We will ensure you keep getting paid the money in your contract and potentially add some ambassadorial work to that”.

Not so long ago players were considered lucky to get a contract past the age of 30. If they did it was normally one year at a time.

The query really is why have these players got to a stage where they are medically unable to keep playing yet have three or more years left on contract.

Is it unexpected on these clubs that these players are unable to fulfil the contract? Are the clubs irresponsible in giving such long-term deals to players with a long injury history in such a brutal sport?

If so, is someone other than the clubs responsible? The players certainly aren’t. Who could blame them in looking for the pen when a large multi-year deal is put on the table, but you can’t tell me that a get-out isn’t discussed by the clubs when getting into such arrangements.

There are stipulations in the medical insurance that payouts will only be paid when injuries are new and have occurred since the last contract was initiated.

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Now obviously that is a murky area. Anyone who plays rugby league for ten years or more has a long history of injuries new and old, so putting a start point on anything is always complex.

I guess the question is how someone with a complex injury history is put on a long multi-season deal. Yes, players require some job certainty and players at the top of the game no doubt would require two to three-year contracts – particularly when a club is trying to attract them – but how are players nearing the end of their brutal careers put on a four, five or in Jason Taumalo’s case, ten-year deal, when injury could jump in at any time?