Clubs force NRL to change pay for players with long service



Clubs force NRL to change pay deal for players with long service GLENN JACKSON
June 3, 2010

The NRL is set to triple long-serving player concessions - to the extent that they can be funded by club benefactors - as part of changes to the salary cap next season.

But the cap itself is not expected to be raised significantly next season, despite reports that it would be increased by as much as $300,000 using the money the state government will pledge to keep the NRL grand final in Sydney. Instead, that money will be used to increase the grant given to clubs, in a bid to bridge the gap between that annual handout and the salary cap.

The NRL's recent call for submissions from every club, to aid salary cap reform, will lead to the increase in concessions for long-serving players, likely to be staggered depending on how long the player has spent at his club.

NRL chief executive David Gallop said many clubs had backed changes to the long-serving concessions in their submissions. But rather than simply raise the $4.1 million cap outright, he said the clubs were more focused on ensuring the gap between the $3.45m grant and the cap was smaller.

''We don't want to lose sight of the need to close the gap between the cap and the grant,'' Gallop said. ''Some of the submissions have suggested extending concessions on the cap rather than a straight lift on the cap. Expanding the concession for long-serving players has a lot of merit and that's a way of lifting the cap without necessarily widening that gap.''

Clubs have $100,000 in concessions for long-serving players, but that is likely to be raised by $200,000\. And instead of clubs being forced to foot the bill, other parties will be allowed to fund the payments. That means wealthy club owners or sponsors can partially fund the retention of players, without having that money included in the salary cap.

The feeling among the clubs, through their submissions, is that they might not be able to afford a straight salary cap rise.

''Even the current allowances are not used fully by all clubs, which demonstrates that there isn't a pool of funds available which is being stopped by the rules,'' Gallop said.

Clubs would be allowed to spend all the $300,000 on one player, however, the percentage of the salary that can be claimed as a concession will be staggered depending on how long the player has been at the club. A five-year veteran may only be allowed to have 20 per cent of his salary claimed as a concession, while a nine-year player will be able to be paid significantly more.

The move may give Melbourne an opportunity to hold on to players that they would have been expected to lose following their salary cap scandal. Hooker Cameron Smith, fullback Billy Slater, centre Greg Inglis and halfback Cooper Cronk would all be eligible.

The NRL is also intent on lifting representative payments in a bid to retain the best players in the game. Just a day after Israel Folau became the latest high-profile defection, Penrith centre Michael Jennings will soon give the game some good news - he said yesterday he would soon finalise a five-year deal with the Panthers.

''We're just waiting to get pen to paper,'' Jennings said. ''It's a long process of getting things sorted out, but I'm happy where I am. I'll be staying for a while.

''I've decided where I want to be and I'm happy where I am. That's where I want to end up.

''The main reason is my family. I'm close to my family and it's hard to just leave them. The main thing is sticking close to my family. I grew up in the Penrith district and Penrith have looked after me. I'm happy with what the future holds there.''

With Folau's signing by the GWS AFL franchise, the battle for western Sydney has never been harder fought. But Gallop claimed yesterday that ''generational support'' and the fact that the NRL did not employ a draft would ensure rugby league remained strong in the area.

Jennings, a face of rugby league in the west, said he bore no ill-will against the man who will lead the AFL's publicity blitz in the area.

'''But that's [Folau's] decision. Good on him,'' he said.

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