Off the Wall

The news overnight that the English Super League competition is to expand from 12 to 14 clubs from the 2009 season is potentially another troubling development for the game in Australia.

The drain of NRL players to the English Super League has been well chronicled. It has become one of the real challenges for the NRL and the game in Australia.

It would surely follow that the expansion of the English Super league competition will result in even more NRL players abandoning the game here for what is on offer in England.

One wonders how many more we can afford to lose?

My view is not one more - we have lost too many already and there is growing evidence the standard of the NRL premiership is under pressure as a result.

The response of our officials to the loss of so many good players to the English Super League has not been surprising. It has been to say not much and do even less!

Now I am not in the business of blaming NRL players, or their managers, for taking advantage of the significant extra benefits, and in some cases that includes career extensions, that Super League clubs have on offer. Good luck to them.

But the news of the expansion again raises the issue of what the NRL can do to enable players who want to extend their careers in the NRL competition to do so within the considerable restraints imposed by the salary cap......a salary cap which has absolutely no restraining impact on English Super League clubs.

We can forget about the cap being significantly increased. That would have to be funded by the NRL, given the parlous financial state of the majority of NRL clubs.....and not just those in Sydney.

And if it was funded by the NRL it would probably have to come out of the profit shared by the ARL and News Limited. Not likely!

What is needed is some level headed thinking - based on detailed research on the factors that encourage our players to head overseas. Money is undoubtedly the main part of the equation - but it is not the only part by a long shot.

It is also because players who have represented at the highest levels, and are therefore generally on higher payments in their NRL clubs, fear that as their careers are drawing to a close, they will be the first to be punted when salary cap pressures emerge. And time and time again that is what has happened.

Shifting to Super League, without our salary cap restraints simply offers greater insurance.

Today we saw reports that the incoming Dragons coach does not particularly want Jason Riles in 2009 and the club has given him permission to look elsewhere. And where will he look? To Super League of course.

The list is seemingly endless.......and it is growing almost by the week.

The number of players who have represented at Kangaroo and Origin levels going to Super League is not an accident. It is a direct consequence of the position I have outlined above.

So, in my view, one small step towards stopping the player drain - and one that can be achieved with the most minimum impact on the salary cap - is to expand the concessions that are available to representative players who have played a certain number of tests or origin matches.

This will advantage some clubs more than others - such as The Storm and the Broncos - but we need to remember that they pay a price when their highly paid players are away on origin duty. And it is the clubs that have to fund the more lucrative contracts players who gain representative honours demand. There are a whole range of other options that need to be considered.

But expanding the concessions under the salary caps for a player like Jason Ryles might keep him in the game in Australia.

And can that be such a bad thing?