Off the Wall

The complexity of the salary cap, let alone the third party arrangements, makes it difficult for the average fan to decide who is right and who is wrong when it comes to the NRL's ruling concerning the Souths Rabbitohs recruitment of Greg Inglis.

Given the massive publicity the recruitment of Inglis has received, we can safely assume the NRL would not have rejected the agreement between Inglis and South Sydney without giving the matter not just serious consideration, but also taking high level legal advice.

All we as fans can expect is that the whole process is being driven by a mix of fairness and transparency.

The NR L will claim that the fairness test is met because the requirements it has imposed on Souths over the extensive list of third party agreements they have reached for Inglis are the same requirements it imposed on the Broncos when Inglis "signed" with the Brisbane club.

The NRL will also claim there is transparency in its decision because it has publicly identified the deals that must be included under the salary cap.

Sponsorships and what are generally known as third party agreements are the real grey area when it comes to the salary cap.

Some are treated different to others - such as agreements with existing NRL sponsors and partners such as Nine and Fox Sports. The controversial deal the Storm negotiated for Cameron Smith with Fox Sports is a case in point.

What the NRL has essentially done is reject Souths proposal that Inglis be listed under the salary cap for 2011 at $190,000, and $350,000 in 2012 and 2013.

In doing so it obviously concluded there would be an outcry from other clubs if a player worth between $450,000 and $600,000 a year was able to be registered for $190,000 for 2011.

And that is where the transparency and fairness aspects both come in.

The integrity of the salary cap will be destroyed if well-connected clubs are allowed to sign players on low contracts topped up by massive third party agreements.

There are a handful of clubs - such as the Roosters and the Broncos, and probably the Rabbitohs because of the influence of the club's owner - that could fairly easily put together six figure sponsorship and other third party agreements for individual players. But the majority of clubs would struggle to do so - some are struggling to sign up club sponsors let alone individual ones.

The NRL, for as long as it wants to keep the salary cap, is simply not going to allow generous, and at times suspicious, third party agreements undermine it, or at least how the NRL interprets it!

That is at the heart of the NRL's response to the Rabbitohs contract with Inglis.

Threats that Inglis might switch to the AFL, or rugby union, won't wash with the NRL at the end of the day...it is not going to allow one club be treated differently under salary cap third party arrangements than any other, and certainly not significantly differently.

That really leaves the club with just two unpalatable choices - if it wants to sign Inglis it will have to release two or three contracted players OR abandon the Inglis recruitment at least for 2011.

Perhaps there ought to be a better way - but that won't happen as long as the salary cap is paramount in the NRL.

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