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Opinion

Pay cuts will show the players are genuine partners in the NRL

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Editor
23rd March, 2020
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4813 Reads

Can we all just take a moment to acknowledge that what we are facing at the moment is totally unprecedented.

Sure, we’ve been through market crashes and major health scares before, but a global pandemic that has shut down pretty much the entire world hasn’t been seen for… well, it’s never been seen like this, has it?

Maybe the Spanish influenza of 1918 is close but then think how much the world has changed in the last 100 years – how much more interconnected we are, as well as all the technological advancement that’s occurred – even that is no longer super relevant.

Anyway, my point is we’re in uncharted territory here. So can everyone put their pitchforks down?

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We need to stop using a global shutdown due to a virus that could kill as many as 150,000 Australians and tens of millions across the world as evidence of people having been fiscally irresponsible.

Sure, it would be better if the NRL had $450 million in their future fund instead of the estimated $70 million that’s there, but how disingenuous was Joey Leilua being last week when he said, “They (the NRL) should be saving money for if something like this happens.”

Something like this? A World Health Organisation-declared pandemic that has seen the NRL join the likes of the NBA, English Premier League and the WTA and ATP in suspending proceedings.

The NRL should have been prepared for this?

“I thought they were handling their money better, but if they say we’re going to last three months, we’re in trouble,” the new Tigers recruit continued.

I’m sure it won’t be the first or last time he hears this, but Joey, stop being a dickhead.

Joseph Leilua

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Seriously, how was that chat supposed to go down? “Hey Todd, do we have enough money in the coffers to prop up every single club in case the entire competition is forced to shut down for an undetermined period of time due to a deadly disease that sweeps the whole planet?”

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Ask that question even a few months ago and a cuckoo clock would have magically appeared behind you and sounded, just so everyone in the room knew how bonkers you were.

There’s nothing about this that should have been planned for.

And therefore, how hypocritical is it for players to expect the NRL to have planned to prop them up because, as Leilua put it, “We’ve got mortgages to pay and bills to pay.”

Joey, do you mean to say you only have enough cash reserves to get through the next three months? What happened to “saving money for if something like this happens”?

What’s more, didn’t the NRL and RLPA make a big song and dance a few years ago about making the players partners in the game?

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In late 2017, an agreement was reached, which Todd Greenberg called “a true partnership to take the game forward”, while RLPA CEO Ian Prendergast hailed it as “an outstanding deal for the entire game”.

“For the first time in the history of the sport, the interests of players, the NRL, clubs and states will be aligned – incentivising all parties to work together in taking this great game forward,” Prendergast said.

If the players are genuine about being partners in taking this great game forward, then it’s time to walk the walk.

Revenue is going to cop a serious hiding over the coming 12 or so months. And that means all partners – including the players, whose contracts make up some $150 million each year – should anticipate a drop in their take home.

It’s not hypothetical either – the Queensland and NSW Cups had both already been suspended and while we don’t hear much about the lower grades, they’re worth millions of dollars each year. People’s livelihoods are already taking a massive hit in the rugby league partnership.

What’s more, it’s not a case of anyone looking to do the dodgy on the players. The NRL aren’t about to go to the clubs and ask for their top 30 players to sacrifice a bit of their salary because the game is enjoying an upswing in profits.

Money is going down due to a completely unforeseen and unforeseeable set of circumstances. Fiscal management could have been better, but the best way to have saved money would have been putting a freeze on the salary cap a few seasons ago.

ANZ Stadium empty

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

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The players wanting more in their pockets is a big part of the reason the game doesn’t have more in the future fund. So for the players to expect full payment of all contracts over this lean time – more when things are good, more when things are bad – means they were never serious about being partners.

Of course, if they continue to take, the NRL could go bust and the players will end up as partners in an insolvent business. Should that occur, contracts for years to come will be void and the players will end up losing out on hundreds of millions in total.

What’s more, when the next rugby league comp is set up – because another rugby league comp will eventually emerge, there’s literally billions to be made from this code – the new administrators will know better than to make the players partners again.

Everyone is going to be doing it tough in the months to come, so to expect you’ll be unaffected because you’ve got a contract and the business – any business – that employs you “should be saving money for if something like this happens” is either naïve or greedy (when your salary is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, I’d suggest it’s the latter).

For NRL players, now’s the time to show that you are genuine partners. The game’s earnings will be down, so you should be prepared for your earnings to be down. That’s how partnerships work – you all tighten your belts in the tough times.

It’s not bad business that has seen the NRL end up in this situation. But it would be bad business for a significant partner in the game to continue taking the same amount out of a diminishing pot while everyone else takes a hit.