Off the Wall

At a time when a few high profile players seem to regard loyalty to rugby league as not their responsibility isn't it refreshing that one of the games outstanding players is about to sign up to what amounts to a whole of career commitment to rugby league?

Today the Tigers are expected to announce the Benji Marshall is signing a contract that will keep him at the club - and in rugby league - until 2015. Given that he is now 25, it may well be his final contract.

The Tigers, and Marshall, deserve nothing but praise for achieving such a long term commitment, which stands in stark contrast to some of the unseemly "code shopping" we have seen in recent times.

The question now needs to be - can the NRL devise a variation to the salary cap that rewards clubs, and long term, top level players, who make a long term commitment to the game? I hope it can. And perhaps the best way to do so is to liberalise the provisions relating to third party sponsorship arrangements, and even arrangements with existing club sponsors.

There are already concessions under the salary cap arrangements for long term representative players - but we need a new incentive for key players to sign extended contracts, even whole of career, contracts.

One of the alleged stumbling blocks with regard to Johnathan Thurston - and I stress "alleged" - concerns third party sponsorship arrangements.

It has also been a problem with any number of other contract negotiations involving highly paid players.

Why not liberalise sponsorship agreement conditions for a player who has played at the international or origin level over several seasons and who is prepared to sign a long term NRL contract?

The agreement Benji Marshall and the Tigers are believed to have reached would meet the conditions completely. It is a long term (six year) commitment, and one given by a player who has represented at the international level.

While the threats from the ARU, and Australian rugby clubs, has diminished, cashed up Japanese and European rugby clubs most certainly has not. And UK Super League clubs seem to have a money tree to call on.

Any concession needs to be targeted - and be used to retain players who are in the prime of their careers, and not players who are at the fag end of them!

Rugby league has a remarkable capacity to breed and deliver new talent. The loss of something like 80 first grade players to the UK in recent years has not had as much an impact on the standard of the NRL premiership some of us had feared - not yet.

When a player of the quality of Benji Marshall makes a long term, if not whole of career, commitment to the game, and the NRL premiership, we should all applaud.

And the NRL, as custodians of the games future, needs to consider a way give special recognition to that all too rare commodity - long term code and club loyalty!