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The true value of loyalty
While I could write a thousand articles about the perceived problems in the NRL, one difficulty worth focussing on is third party payments to players, particularly now the June 30th deadline is, er?dead. Sonny Bill Williams (or as some lazily call him SBW) spoke to Rugby League Week this week discussing his frustration regarding the current rules for players receiving third party payments (or endorsements).
These rules allow three players per team the receive endorsements from sponsors of their club of up to $50,000 per year. SBW (I?m lazy too) rightly argues that he is missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars per year due to this rule, and threatened (who does this remind you of?) to defect to Rugby or play in Europe where such rules don?t exist. For such a marketable bloke it?s understandable that he wants to make as much money as possible.
The NRL however has a justifiable position as well. They have a salary cap that, to a large degree, has kept the competition competitive for the past 4 or 5 years. Previously uncompetitive teams, such as the Cowboys and the Tigers, have strengthened their squads with players that have been forced out of their previous clubs due to the cap. The forced movement of players out of clubs has also allowed emerging players (such as Daniel Holdsworth) opportunities in first grade they may have never received in the past.
However a successfully policed salary cap also has it?s downsides. While younger players are nurtured through the grades and exposed to the NRL early, this exposure ensures they gain in value quickly. Unfortunately such gains can lead to the player being priced out of their club, and forced to move against the wishes of both club and player. This leaves clubs who are great developers of talent with only a short period of time to benefit from their young teams.
This is where NRL players, administrators and importantly fans much make a decision. Do they want a close competition of clubs that are basically full of transient players who are only looking towards their next pay cheque?
One solution may lie with SBW?s frustration. While he?s not a Belmore boy from birth, the Bulldogs discovered the raw talent of Williams and nurtured it through his teenage years, providing support to both him and his family. While it may jeopardise the evenness of the competition, why not reward the Bulldogs for their efforts? The perfect solution would be to allow third parties to become involved with these loyal clubmen. One system could involve players with 7+ years experience of grade competition with one club to be allowed $100,000 in endorsements from club sponsors, and a player with 9+ years being permitted to receive unlimited endorsements. This system is simular to the loyalty allowance in the current cap however the benefits for the player to stay at his club are far greater and kick in at a younger age. A player that was graded at the age of 15 would be able to include the first wave of endorsements by the age of 22, and an unlimited amount by 24.
This may lead to a handful of teams having a stronger squad than the rest, but these clubs will only be strong because they?ve developed players at an early age and supported them over a number of years. While fans may occasionally see an uneven contest, it?d only occur due to the hard work of the victorious team over a long period of time. Surely that?s what Rugby League is all about.
Another benefit is that players in their mid-20s may avoid being tempted by European Super League clubs as their asking price exceeds the budgets of most NRL clubs. Movement between teams may decrease but we will see a resurgence in the ?one team player?, as teams will be more willing to hold on to the players they?ve developed for more than 7 years.
While some will argue that using such a system risks allowing the rich teams to continue to get richer, comparing this to losing the SBWs of the code, and it may be a chance worth taking.