Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
5 days ago
The NRL has taken a major step towards keeping its players out of rugby union clutches by setting up a representative loyalty fund for the game's elite players.
NRL chief executive David Gallop confirmed on Wednesday the fund would come into operation this season and would be open to all players in the premiership, including Bulldogs and New Zealand star Sonny Bill Williams.
Under the concept, which has been ratified by the Rugby League Professionals Association (RLPA), 50 per cent of all representative payments would be paid into a fund.
Players would then receive a lump sum payout based on their contribution on their retirement - provided they remained in rugby league.
"It's a form of loyalty ... and I think a good thing for the game," Gallop said.
"We have been conscious in the last few years that players earn a lot of money in a short time and we should be helping them manage that by funds that can accumulate more money but in a way that they have some sort of lump sum to look forward to at the end of their career.
"But the players have agreed they will forego that if they don't remain in rugby league.
"That's something that the players themselves have been keen to push with us. They don't like seeing players go over to rugby union."
State of Origin players are currently paid $6000 per game and receive a $2500 winning bonus.
Australian players receive $5000 per test, although last year's Tri Nations tourists were given $10,000 as well as a $10,000 bonus for winning the tournament.
If they replicated that figure this season, they would kick-off the first year of the fund with nearly $25,000 each.
Over a 10-year representative career, that amounts to a $250,000 payout.
"That's a pretty good idea," former Queensland skipper and current NRL board member Gorden Tallis said.
"Obviously it pays for loyalty. It is great for the game and it's going to stop some of these young players from getting the appetite to go over there (to rugby) because the only reason they go over there is for more money.
"All my friends who have left haven't gone because it's a better game, they've gone for more money.
"That's what we have to try to stop."
However, RLPA chief executive Tony Butterfield, who was heavily involved in setting up the fund, warned rugby union would still tempt league's elite.
"If rugby union had a desire to get somebody, they would just calculate that amount in," Butterfield said.
"I don't know that we're going to stop players going over. The main purpose of the fund is to give the players a nest-egg when they give the game away."
Tallis, who played 17 State of Origin matches and eight tests during his outstanding career, said the fund would also provide players with time to weigh up their options on retirement.
"It's just a great safety net," Tallis said.
"It doesn't put pressure on you to go out there and make a silly decision to go jump straight into business.
"It might give you 12 months to sit down and relax and come back to the normal world.
"It gives you a chance to work for 12 months or go do a course.
Most of the kids get pulled out when they are 19 or 20 and you can't get to university.
"Playing rugby league these days is a hard business. I think it's great for the game."