Sport confidential: RLPA-NRL ties plummet to new low as second round of wage war looms

The RLPA’s relations with the NRL are at a critical juncture, accusing the governing body of mass failure that will impact both men’s and women’s games.

The players’ union finally ended protracted talks over back wages by landing a $38 million windfall, but celebrations were short-lived as they quickly targeted headquarters and accused the NRL of being “unprofessional and being disrespectful to players and clubs”.

The Rugby League Players Association sent an email to their gaming group confirming they had finally reached an agreement with the NRL on historic payments during the Covid crisis as players were forced to take significant pay cuts to accommodate the to help survive the game.

In the email obtained by News Corp, RLPA chief executive Clint Newton said they’ve encountered significant opposition – presumably from the NRL – but their “relentless pursuit” has landed the players a major coup.

The final figure was $38.35 million to be paid to players who have taken pay cuts in 2020, 2021 and this season. The email also addressed the NRL about the time it has taken to reach an agreement on back payments and the impact this has had on talks about the future.

“We understand that this may have felt like a long process,” the statement said.

“It has been. We wish it hadn’t, but if we hadn’t responsibly investigated the NRL’s finances and followed up on the issues we uncovered, we wouldn’t have had such a good outcome for the players.

“Against this backdrop, we have urged the NRL meeting to begin substantive negotiations. The fact that we are two months from the end of the season and not yet starting any meaningful negotiations is unprofessional and disrespectful towards the players and clubs.”

Newton then fired from News Corp and asked the NRL to allow former Nine Network boss Hugh Marks, who was hired by headquarters as a consultant, to do his job.

Remarkably, with the new contract season set to start on November 1, clubs and players still don’t know what the salary cap will be for next season. The situation is even worse in women’s football, which is set to expand with four new teams next season.

“Never in my history as a player or with the federation have I seen such delays, despite repeated requests to get started and repeated promises that we will receive a financial proposal from the NRL,” Newton said.

“Our frustration, which is reflected by the players and you would also suggest clubs, is reaching a tipping point. When you consider that there are 240 NRLW players and four new clubs who have no idea when their season starts, how long it lasts, what terms and conditions apply or who to sign, how would you consider this situation fair and respectful ?

“It’s ridiculous. Put simply, all players and all clubs need certainty and clarity. We spoke publicly earlier this year about our optimism in bringing Hugh Marks on board as our chief negotiator.

“But given our position, Hugh has clearly not been given the opportunity to do the job he was hired to do, which is to go into detail and negotiate a fair and reasonable collective agreement for all parties within a reasonable amount of time.

“These are complex matters that will take time, but here we are and the whole industry is being pressured that could have been avoided had these negotiations been prioritized. We have less than three months until the end of this term. We would support Hugh if he gets the full license to continue.”

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said it was important they resolve the past before looking to the future.

“We have a positive and optimistic outlook for in-game revenue growth and look forward to discussions with the RLPA on a new CBA as a number of outstanding issues have been resolved,” Abdo said.

The NRL initially offered the players $10.8 million in back payment. The RLPA then forensically examined the NRL’s accounts for the past three years and was able to negotiate a revised figure of $30.3 million. Further investigation secured an additional $2 million before the parties arrived at $38.35 million.

This means that players from the last three years will receive a surprise in their bank accounts in the coming weeks.

Originally published as Sport Confidential: RLPA-NRL relations plummet to new low as round two of wage war looms Sport confidential: RLPA-NRL ties plummet to new low as second round of wage war looms

Nate Jones

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