Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
National Rugby League boss David Gallop insisted there was no hidden "pot of gold" as leading players upped the ante in their push to gain a greater share of the spoils.
High-profile figures from the Rugby League Players' Association met in Sydney to thrash out a proposal for a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) designed to ensure the financial security of the modern-day professional.
The much sought-after CBA would offer NRL players important benefits including a minimum wage, insurance, education and welfare and protection for when clubs go broke.
Such advantages are already afforded to Australia's elite cricketers and AFL and rugby union players.
Sydney Roosters skipper and former NSW and Australian captain Brad Fittler is leading the player push for a balance of power.
"When we compare our situation with the situation with the cricketers, AFL players, rugby union players, we are so far behind it ain't funny," Fittler said.
"The players have very little to gain from playing rugby league, really.
"It's a bit frustrating. There's some definite issues the NRL needs to look at. At the moment, it seems to be in their favour a lot. Players have very little."
Fittler said the players "don't get looked after well enough".
"We want a collective bargaining agreement," he said.
"We need one for the future, for the future players of the game.
"It's not really the elite players that get affected by these issues, so it's not as though we're looking to fill our pockets
"We're just looking after the general wellbeing of all the players.
"We think it's for the good of the game."
The RLPA considers the salary cap a restraint of trade and is demanding a bigger share of the financial pie generated through the NRL.
"I wouldn't know how big the pie is at the moment," Fittler said.
"I don't think anyone gets a look at the pie. David (Gallop) is the only one who knows, I suppose."
Gallop assured the players they were receiving what they were entitled to.
"The game is in good shape financially, but there isn't a pot of gold under the bed that isn't being distributed at the NRL," he said.
"If the game continues to grow, then the players will share in that growth at some point."
Other leading players to attend today's talks included Gorden Tallis, Brett Kimmorley, Trent Barrett, Clinton Schifcofske and Steve Price.
RLPA president Tony Butterfield said the next step to obtaining the CBA was to gain the verbal support from every player in the NRL and then present the proposal to Gallop next week.
"It's important that we get everybody back in this room and next week they say `we've got 500 blokes who all agree with this position as fair and reasonable,'" Butterfield said.
"If you've got that, you can walk in and negotiate with some expectation of a positive outcome.
"We need some results in the short-term, the next three or four weeks."
While Fittler said the players were against strike action if they didn't get their way, Butterfield said such drastic action was a very last resort.
"Anything's possible because the players want it resolved," he said.
Asked if the finals could be jeopardised by a strike, Butterfield shrugged and said: "It's all part of the season as far
as we're concerned and the players are fully committed to the process.
"Within the confines of the Workplace Relations Act, there are a number of different abilities we could undertake.
"(Striking) shouldn't be (an option), but the players resolved here today that whatever needs to be done, needs to be done.
"And at the end of the day the decision will probably rest with the NRL.