Off the Wall

  • by
  • February 23 2010 10:42AM

It is difficult to have much sympathy for Johnathan Thurston as one door after another seems to close in his face as he chases a post-2010 contract.

There is no loyalty to rugby league involved in this, for as he said himself, it is all about "the bucks".

Well he seems to be finding out that rugby union has even more financial pressures to contend with than rugby league does - and if he did not know that when he embarked on his "bucks" shopping expedition he should change his manager or his other advisors.

The era in which the ARU was able to entice high quality league players, with the offer of contracts well beyond what any NRL club can offer because of salary cap limits, is over.

The windfall profits from when the World Cup was last played in Australia have long been spent - and the television ratings are ordinary. Spending over $2 million on a three year contract for a rugby league player would seem to be now right off the ARU agenda.

But even with that reality, you would have to imagine the ARU would have had second thoughts when it saw the "it's all about bucks" statement?

And the AFL is probably "once bitten twice shy" when it comes to paying ridiculous amount for so called NRL stars as a publicity stunt to promote expansion.

Thurston will probably re-sign with the Cowboys for around $500,000 a season. Hardly a poor consolation prize one would have thought!

But the good news for rugby league clubs is that the era of player managers talking up the value of their charges by making unsubstantiated claims about massive "offers" from rugby union is also over.

Thurston is a high quality player - we saw that again when he played for the Indigenous team ten days or so ago - but the real question is a simple one. It is not a matter of if he is worth $700,000 or more a season, but a question of whether any NRL club can afford to pay him that amount?

The answer is clearly no. Salary cap restrictions, and the overall precarious financial state of a majority of NRL clubs, are a reality that managers ought to be upfront with their clients about!

If the NRL secures a significantly better television rights deal from 2013 onwards, the salary cap will no doubt be expanded. But it is hard to see any more than a marginal increase in the meantime.

I believe our first grade players deserve to be well paid. Their careers can be cut short, and the majority of careers are not that long in any event, and playing in the NRL can be a fickle business. You can sign a "water tight" contract one day, and be "shown the door" the next!

But what they get has to bear a relationship to the "economics" of the game. Today, the economics remain under real pressure - even for clubs like the Broncos not dependent on poker machines.

I have no idea if Johnathan Thurston, or his advisors, have any appreciation of that.

At least they have an appreciation that rugby union's financial state is parlous - even more parlous than that of the greatest game of all!

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