Off the Wall

At a time when it was desperately needed, the NRL today got some good news - but it comes with a sting in the tail.

The signing by Jarryd Hayne of a new four year contract with the Eels is good news for the Eels and for rugby league. It puts an end to the stories about Hayne "considering" a switch to the Western Sydney AFL team.

Frankly Hayne deserves full credit today for raising the salary cap issue, and what he sees as the need for the NRL to adopt a more flexible approach to it.

The NRL has an intransigent approach to the issue. One can only assume that if, and when, the NRL clubs own the game, intransigence will become outright opposition!

This week's evidence before the Productivity Commission on the reliance of NRL clubs on poker machine revenue won't surprise readers of this column - but it seems to have come as a real surprise to some media commentators. He NRL and Leagues Clubs Australia both made submissions that in truth paint a grim picture of the financial position of a majority of NRL clubs - and the equally tenuous state of leagues clubs that help fund the game at the grass roots level.

The Leagues Clubs CEO might have been overstating the position when he said that if the Productivity Commission's proposed changes to gaming machine laws were implemented "only five or six privately owned teams would survive".

What he was really saying is that the majority of NRL clubs simply could not survive if there was a downturn in gaming machine revenue brought about by tougher controls as the Productivity Commission envisages.

That is the main reason why Jarryd Hayne's call for more flexibility on salary cap arrangements to ensure the game retains "elite" players is going to fall on death ears.

Hayne is not asking for much, nor have I through this column.

All he wants is flexibility so the game can retain the best players - and he wants that to be done through more flexible third party sponsorship arrangements.

The reality is that the tight guidelines governing third party arrangements mean that they are hard to secure.

No one is suggesting a massive hike in the total salary cap. Clearly, the majority of NRL clubs simply could not afford that, and uncertainties remain over the game's overall funding.

But surely the system can be "tweaked" so that clubs wanting to retain the best players can do so through third party sponsorship arrangements?

The retention of Jarryd Hayne for the next five years is good news - in a very bad news week!