When the cap doesn't fit

In recent years we've seen premiership winning teams decimated in the next few years as a result of the salary cap. Take our last two NRL premiers for example, the Bulldogs and the Panthers. When the Panthers won the premiership in 2003 they had up-and-coming stars such as Luke Lewis, Luke Rooney, Joel Clinton, Ben Ross and Trent Waterhouse. Since the 2003 win these five players have all gone onto play representative football. As their impression in the game rises, so does their pay. Last season we saw Bulldogs stars Sonny Bill Williams, Willie Tonga and Andrew Ryan all rise to fame and the representative arena. Like the Panthers, as these players started to gain recognition for their performances, their contracts had to reflect such an increase. The salary cap is supposed to enforce a fair and level playing field, but this begs the question, is the salary cap fair to those clubs that are successful and produce representative players? Surely the answer to that question is no.

So is the salary cap fair? From a struggling teams perspective, it has allowed the likes of the Warriors to buy Steven Price, the Tigers Paul Whatuira and the Eagles Ben Kennedy, but look at those once top teams. The Knights won the competition in 2001, just a few years on, they can?t win a game. The Panthers are lagging outside the eight, having lost 2003 stars Scott Sattler, Ryan Girdler and Martin Lang. Although these three players eventually retired within a year of winning the competition, the problem that the Panthers have found is that they are unable to replace players with the same calibre. Finally the Bulldogs have been hit with departures and injuries since their premiership win 2004. Their depth is being tested, and with the enforcement of the salary cap it restricts the amount of capable depth you?re allowed to have in your club. As we look across the clubs, each team has a different way to work with the salary cap in building their best possible line-up. Our first example is the Knights, who put a significant portion of the salary cap into a handful of players. Andrew Johns, Danny Buderus, Matt Gidley and Steve Simpson would take a large bulk of the $3.25million cap. This is where the problem lies. When injuries occur to these marquee players, a large portion of the salary cap is therefore sitting on the sideline, resulting in poor replacement players, due to lack of depth. On the other end of the spectrum, we take a look at the Sharks. The Sharks have a few pricey players, surrounded with good first graders. The likes of Brett Kimmorley, Jason Stevens and David Peachey would be on the more significant pay, whereas solid first graders such as Matt Hilder, Paul Gallen and David Simmons would be more cost efficient. There is no perfect solution. Although history has shown, to win a competition you need to have a great deal of up-and-coming future rep stars, that are about to break into the representative scene. Along with that, you will an injury-free passage and a hell of a lot of luck.

As 2005 reaches the midpoint of the season it will be interesting to see if clubs that stack their teams with a handful of representative players will succeed, or will it be those teams sprinkled with rep stars and good depth that will prevail?