Carting it up with

Best to say farewell Mr Gasnier

Well we?re not at the point where we have to postpone NRL games, but according to media reports, Rugby League is about to lose a whole batch of stars to union. Tonga is to be a Red, Cross a Waratah and Gasnier a Force (whatever that is).

Such unsubstantiated reports appear every year at one time or another, usually around the time a few high profile players? contracts are up. These rumours then encourage rich clubs to claim that this only happens because the players are severely underpaid. This of course leads to player managers believing they can use the 15-a-side game as a pawn to extract more contract money from the clubs. It?s a vicious cycle that ironically benefits the ARU least of all, as they are inevitably seen as a code that is desperate for talent and lacking in ability to foster juniors.

Rumours of Gasnier?s departure this week has led to a new wave of opinions on how to keep our top players away from the ?other? code. Apart from the usual charge of the ?raise the salary cap brigade?, some league officials have come up with an idea similar to Cricket Australia. The plan involves the NRL setting up a fully funded elite group of around 25 players. These players would be paid an extra loyalty award based on their ranking. This money would fall outside the salary cap, and would hopefully provide incentives for players to stay in the NRL. Such a scheme does have some merit. The system encourages talent, players will be rewarded for their ability rather than the ability of shifty player managers to coax extra money out of desperate clubs.

Such a system may also have flow on effects to the international game. If players of all nationalities are eligible to be ranked, it will eliminate the some anomalies with player payments. Currently players receive decent bonuses for competing in representative football such as City vs Country, State of Origin and Test matches. While this is a great bonus for these players, it discriminates against some international players in the NRL who will never have the opportunity to earn this extra cash. A ranking system will allow such players to receive equal reward to their Australian counterparts, and keep them away from rugby union and Engage Super League.

Which raises another issue, why is the Rugby League community so upset by the potential defection of Gasnier but are comfortable with Trent Barrett?s potential loss to the ESL? While union has always been regarded as the ?enemy? to some League supporters, Barrett will undoubtedly be as large a loss to the competition. The fact he will still be playing Rugby League, albeit on the other side of the world, is surely little consolation.

Funnily enough some of the NRL administrators supporting the introduction of a funded ranking system are also pushing for a salary cap rise. Clearly when both ideas are compared a moderate cap increase is the preferred option. While the ranking system will ensure the elite level players better pay, making it likely they will stay in the NRL, a cap increase, coupled with a reviewed collective bargaining agreement, will ensure pay increases for all NRL players. Considering league has lost as many Wycliffe Palu?s and Paul Franze?s as they have Matt Roger?s and Lote Tuqiri?s, perhaps a general pay increase is the better long term priority, even if we lose Gasnier.