Off the Wall

One of the first tasks the independent commission (if we ever get it) needs to address is the impact the ownership of clubs by wealthy individuals will have on the future of the game.

The issues surrounding News Limited's ownership of clubs will pale into insignificance when compared with the challenges the ownership of the Nathan Tinkler's of the corporate world will throw up.

Unless this is all managed very carefully, you can forget about the salary cap "evening up" the competition - it will be split in two with private owners with unlimited access to funds on the one side, and the member/licensed club owned teams on the other.

In the race for Wayne Bennett's signature, not one member owned/leagues club owned NRL team was in the race. I include the Dragons in that calculation.

It was a three way race - between the Broncos, the Rabbitohs, and the Knights. Clubs which desperately need a coaching, and wider, shakeup, such as the Panthers were not in the hunt.

What is happening - and this is the basis of my concern - is that at a time when a couple clubs are being taken over by mega-rich businessmen, the majority of clubs that are reliant on revenue from their licensed clubs are in dire financial circumstances, with the outlook quite frankly troubling.

New South Wales now has a "club friendly" government (and is headed by a genuine league tragic) but that alone won't turn around the fortunes of clubs such as the Panthers which today face the real prospect of federal-imposed poker machine controls that will drive a giant stake through the financial heart of many clubs.

A number of NRL teams that are reliant on licensed clubs are already struggling to even reach the limits imposed by the salary cap. If Andrew Wilkie and the Greens get their way, then distributions may end up being slashed even further, if not wiped out completely.

I have been asked by a number of people how the Knights can possibly fit Wayne Bennett under the salary cap? They don't need to - the coach and his staff are exempt from the salary cap provisions.

We can debate the merits of that, but the reality is that Nathan Tinkler, or any other entrepreneur, can buy the best coaches in the game, knowing full well that their player roster will benefit directly, and probably massively, as a result.

That is fine - provided the non-privately owned teams are not significantly disadvantaged. If the financial problems facing many of the current NRL clubs worsen, then disadvantaged they surely will be.

The other challenge wealthy private owners present the NRL is their capacity to make post-career promises and commitments. Such as - a player nearing the end of his career would be attracted by the promise of a post-career job in the owners business.

We know that happens already - with sponsors - but it can be taken to a whole new level when you have a wealthy owner of a club.

What the NRL commission needs to do when it is to look at the growing "divide" wealthy private owners may well create. And they need to look at it with urgency.

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