Will CEO intervention lead to rich getting richer

NRL chief executive officer Dave Smith now has the power to help clubs keep, or attract, elite players in the game. Picture: EDWINA PICKLES
NRL chief executive officer Dave Smith now has the power to help clubs keep, or attract, elite players in the game. Picture: EDWINA PICKLES


What a breath of fresh air it was to hear during the week about the NRL's massaging of the salary cap to correct some blights with the system.

We tend to take stock then fire with both barrels when they get something wrong, so maybe they deserve a bit of praise for this one.

The change which really caught my eye was the NRL arming itself with the financial muscle to help retain, and poach, elite players for the benefit of rugby league.

So here's my problem: isn't it only going to help the bigger clubs get better and leave the smaller clubs lagging?

Two players spring straight to mind where this rule could have been invoked: rugby union-bound Sonny Bill Williams and Sam Burgess.

Would Dave Smith's clout have helped them to stay in league? Who knows?

Let me run you through this scenario though: say Sonny Bill is considering an offer from rugby and is almost over the line to switch codes; his mind is pretty much made up.

He's got five or six NRL clubs who tabled offers - including Canberra - as they manipulate every last cent they can find under the cap to provide the most attractive package they can to him. The Roosters, Rabbitohs, Tigers and Sea Eagles have also drawn up deals with fewer financial rewards for Sonny Bill than he could earn with the Raiders. The NRL CEO, realising the desperation to keep the most recognisable face the game's got in the league, enters the frame. Sonny Bill tells him he's 90 per cent sure he wants to go to union and will only stay in the NRL if it's with a Sydney-based club. Canberra's too cold, apparently, and his commercial appeal is not great there.

Smith stumps the extra cash, Sonny has a change of heart and signs on, for argument's sake, with the Bunnies. Bingo. Smith, Sonny Bill and rugby league rejoice - everyone's a winner. Or are they?

The poor old Raiders don't think so. They squeezed every last penny they could find into a better deal for Sonny Bill, but instead of only missing out on him if he went to union, they not only miss out on him but have to play against him next year!

Isn't this just going to make the rich richer - not so much in a financial sense but more so from a player perspective - and make the poor poorer?

Most of the real high-profile clubs or ones with the most money already have the star players. We might just be giving them more money to stay. This rule, however infrequently called upon, might just be making the elite more elitist. That's a real worry.

It's fantastic if we get Israel Folau and Karmichael Hunt back but won't they only want to go to a select few clubs anyway? Are all these exceptional cases just going to favour three or four stronger teams?

The one thing I don't have a problem with is the change to the veteran player allowance. Maybe the NRL is reading this column!

I flagged weeks and weeks ago when the Glenn Stewart fiasco was just in its infancy how there needed to be a change to this rule.

Although it's two or three weeks too late for him to even consider staying at Manly, at least allowances will kick in for players who have been at a club for six years rather than eight.

Only our elite can last six years in the game, particularly with one club. By the time they reach eight years, their football IQ is as high as it can get but their body can't keep up.


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