NRL and RLPA CBA Salary Interviews; Strikes, Bulldog Andrew Davey explains erupting talks

Andrew Davey has a unique perspective on the NRL’s ongoing CBA fight. New Canterbury striker and former Zimmermann tells PAMELA WHALEY why he knew things could get out of hand.

Andrew Davey is in a unique position to understand how the real world works.

Back in 2020, the ex-carpenter became the fourth-oldest debutant in the NRL at the age of 28 after quitting his well-paying job for the tools to sign a contract with Parramatta.

At the time, Covid had impacted minimum wage contracts so he was making less money as a professional footballer than if he had kept his job as Chippy – but that’s not where the offer of a lifetime comes in.

In the three years since – with the Eels in 2020 and two years at Manly before joining Canterbury in 2023 – Davey has learned a great deal about life in professional sport. About the constant striving for perfection, the non-stop working day of athletes and why he was wrong to compare a 40-hour work week in construction with the job of an NRL player.

“I’ve lived that life (just worked) and I’ve also lived that in-between life where you try to make it and do everything in your power to be the best footballer but also the best at work so you can make money,” the 31-year-old told CODE Sports.

As the NRL and the players’ union fight an ugly and public battle over workers’ rights and millions of dollars for injured and retired players, rugby league fans roll their eyes at the woes of wealthy First World sportsmen.

Davey gets her point. He was there.

“When I got through the reserve grading system in Queensland to take care of myself and get my body right, a lot of it came out of my pocket. It wasn’t given by clubs, it wasn’t paid for by anyone,” he says.

“So I have the understanding of how it’s going to be after football if we don’t have that kind of support from the NRL.

“On the other hand, I also understand how difficult it is to be a footballer now.

“When I was just playing in the reserves, playing in the local league and being a carpenter, I would watch the guys drop back to play in the reserves and I was like, ‘Dude, I’d do what you did for 50 Giants a year don’t do dramas. Not that they’re whining, they’re just venting.

“But it’s not until you come here (to the NRL) and train hard and it becomes your whole life that you realize — it’s not just preseason, it’s not just the weekend. It’s every minute of every day that you make sure you’re ready for football. When I got here and realized that, it’s like, ‘Oh, maybe I didn’t respect it enough before’.”

He’s played 30 NRL games and fought for every single one. The number would be higher, but he suffered a season-ending ACL injury in 2021. Davey has signed with the Bulldogs for two years, which gives him some stability.

It’s still not going to be an extremely long NRL career, but most importantly about the average length of a first grade footballer’s career.

This unique perspective means Davey will work with the gaming group and the union to fight for forgotten players as the CBA negotiations drag on.

The situation threatens to worsen ahead of the start of the season on March 2 as the union threatens to boycott all outside media, cover up the NRL logo and delay kick-off times for the pre-season games.

It has been a long and relentless struggle so far.

Davey signed with the Bulldogs in August of last year, but given the turmoil at the Sea Eagles at the time, he kept his future under wraps so as not to add to the list of distractions for teammates.

He wasn’t as much in contract limbo as first reported. But he was aware that others (like ex-team-mate Martin Taupau) would be the longer the playing group and clubs went without a confirmed salary cap and ratified labor rights.

“I was very aware that this CBA negotiation could explode. I spent 12 years in the construction game, I was in construction and I grew up around miners. They all have unions like the CFMMEU (Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union) and I’ve watched things get out of hand,” he says.

“It’s not pretty for anyone and it’s not good for anyone. I feel like the NRL and RLPA just don’t have enough experience in this area to be fluent with each other (to strike a deal).”

Within the Bulldogs’ playgroup, Davey and RLPA Delegate Reed Mahoney have updated the playgroup with the latest information from the union.

It’s a young team that doesn’t ask too many questions, but there’s a perception from the outside that the players are too greedy and want more money from the governing body.

It’s an opinion Davey probably would have held in the past without knowing any better.

There are a select few top-dollar players in the game — more than a million dollars a season — and they’re doing a very similar job to the minimum-wage teammates Davey fights for.

“It’s the lack of small details that makes people think there might be a bit of greed in there. Our contracts, we don’t get all the money. We’re taxed like everyone else, of course, but that’s where management fees come from, that’s where our Super comes from,” he says.

“We’re very privileged and this was probably the best club I’ve ever been to where everyone understands it’s a privilege to be here. Not many people can do what we do and get paid for it. I was always very grateful for that.

“To be able to get to a point where I have a salary that I can afford to live on and play football on is very special.

“The CBA negotiations, there’s a lack of detail … it’s a big number that we’re being offered and people just see that number and they don’t see what we’re actually asking for.”

Pamela Walley

Pamela WalleyStaff writer

Pamela Whaley is a Sydney-based sportswriter with over a decade of industry experience. Pamela started out as a cadet at The Daily Advertiser in Wagga Wagga, moved to Sydney in 2014 and began writing features and news for NRL magazine Big League. She has since worked at Fox Sports as senior editor for digital NRL content and at the Australian Associated Press as a sportswriter, covering A-League, cricket and NRL. She grew up playing soccer, touch soccer and netball, but her true passion is storytelling, particularly rugby league. NRL and RLPA CBA Salary Interviews; Strikes, Bulldog Andrew Davey explains erupting talks

Ryan Sederquist

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