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Opinion

The player point system needs to replace the salary cap

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Roar Pro
14th August, 2020
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3437 Reads

The recent signing of Sonny Bill Williams to the Sydney Roosters has sparked an outcry of unfairness and controversy among supporters of the game.

Although he is unarguably a great marketing tool for the NRL, the point of contention here for anyone other than an Easts supporter is how such an established superstar, dual-international in both league and union, can be valued at $400,000 a season.

I’m all for the NRL pulling whatever strings they can to sign the best rugby players in the world to maintain their status as the greatest rugby competition in the world, but the current salary cap system limits this ambition.

This is where a revamp of the system needs to happen – a proposal in which the NRL takes carriage of player contracts and implements a points-based system in its place.

Here’s how it will work:

Player salaries

As stated, player contracts will be centralised to the NRL body, meaning clubs will no longer manage a salary cap for their 30-man squads.

The NRL will determine the prices of every player dependent on their representative experience, first-grade experience in NRL and ESL, age, position, injury history, as well as other extenuating factors.

The current allocated salary cap amounts for clubs would revert back to the NRL, meaning the NRL can use this $160 million to pay their 400 contracted players. This amount would now just work as a guide for player salary expenditure rather than a set cap.

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Furthermore, loosening restrictions on sponsorships and third-party agreements would further assist the NRL in signing and retaining the world’s best players and strengthen the competition by allowing players open opportunities to make as much money they can during their football careers. After all, the average career length for a first-grader is around 40 games.

Ultimately, the abolishment of clubs managing player salaries would provide the NRL body with much more power in the player market. But despite there being much more leeway for the NRL in managing player salaries, it is a necessary change when it goes hand-in-hand with the following proposed player point system (PPS).

Player points system (PPS)

The PPS would act as each NRL club’s new ‘cap’ and would be heavily based around a player’s representative and first-grade experience rather than the club salary.

Clubs will be able to manage their PPS under the following guidelines:

Club points allocation
1350 points per team (squad of 30 players)

Individual player points criteria
80 points: 200 or more first-grade games (inclusive of NRL and ESL);

70 points: 150-199 first-grade games;

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60 points: 100-149 first-grade games;

50 points: 75-99 first-grade games;

40 points: 50-74 first-grade games;

30 points: 21-49 first-grade games;

20 points: 1-20 first-grade games;

10 points: No first-grade experience.

Representative points criteria
Applies to players who have participated in representative football within the past three years, and only the most relevant one applies:

Extra 20 points: Tier-one international representation (Australia, New Zealand or England)

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Extra 10 points: State of origin representation

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Extra 5 points: Tier-two international representation (any nation besides tier-one)

Discounts
Minus 5 points: Per fifty games played for the same club.

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Minus 5 points: For each local junior playing at their club.

PPS guidelines
Player points are calculated and allocated at the commencement of each player contract and are reviewed after contract expiry or after two years whether the contract has expired or not, whichever comes first. Effectively, clubs can still determine the length of contract for a player but will need to take these systematic changes into account.

Squads of 30 must be finalised by June 30th, with no minimum spend of player points required.

Clubs will incur point penalties if they decide to terminate a player under contract. The penalty would be covering a portion of that player’s points for another team to use him, making him a cheap buy – similarly, a player will cost more points if the individual is at-fault for breaching their contract rather than affect the club’s points. Other points penalties could stem from withholding players participating in representative football for no reasonable excuse.

PPS 2020 NRL squad analysis

The following is what each club’s 30-man squad would cost for the 2020 season, inclusive of representative points but omitting discounts:

Raiders: 1725
Roosters: 1560
Storm: 1500
Eels: 1415
Sharks: 1400
Bulldogs: 1395
Knights: 1385
Broncos: 1350
Warriors: 1340
Tigers: 1340
Titans: 1335
Dragons: 1300
Cowboys: 1295
Rabbitohs: 1290
Sea Eagles: 1250
Panthers: 1125

The average for player points between NRL clubs is 1380. Again, this is without taking into account the junior and one-club loyalty discounts, therefore I believe a PPS cap of 1350 points (average 45 points per player) is very manageable for clubs.

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Looking at the above data, the Penrith Panthers have the lowest PPS score, yet are currently topping the NRL ladder. What is interesting is their squad is riddled with Penrith juniors, meaning their club would benefit greatly from the discount criteria. Teams such as the Storm and Roosters who aren’t renowned for home-grown talent would struggle to enable this discount.

Nathan Cleary passes the ball

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

When analysing the Storm and Roosters, as well as the Raiders, these clubs have the highest point amounts. It is notable that their squads are riddled with international talent and first-grade experience so the PPS would effectively spread that talent around. I don’t think it is any coincidence that their clubs are currently in the top eight and vying for a solid chance at winning this year’s premiership.

But going back to the crux of this article, the PPS needs to be implemented for fairness purposes. So, let’s take Sonny Bill Williams for example: he played 123 first-grade games for Bulldogs (73), Roosters (45) and Toronto Wolfpack (5), no representative rugby league in past three years and has just signed back up with the Sydney Roosters for the remainder of the 2020 NRL season.

If the PPS system was currently in effect, Williams would cost the Roosters 60 player points so I highly doubt they would have had any chance of signing him as they have under the salary cap system. This in itself was controversial, to say the least, with the price that was set: the PPS would have squashed this issue as player salary is not a worry for clubs.

The PPS idea would indeed have its flaws, but removing salary cap control from NRL clubs would shift their focus to managing players under the PPS only and allow the NRL body to worry about salaries. This in-turn removes financial headaches for clubs and would undoubtedly spread playing talent across the NRL clubs, making the system a lot fairer and transparent than the one currently in place.

Furthermore, the PPS would hugely benefit the clubs appropriately nursing their junior systems and would inevitably encourage those clubs that don’t to start investing more funds into their grassroots programs. This ultimately provides incentives for clubs and players to remain loyal to one another – something each supporter definitely appreciates despite sport becoming a business.