Monday, April 12, 2010

In the last two weeks we have seen in the rugby league world, accusations of a NRL club cheating the salary cap. As yet it has still to be ascertained as to whether the Gold Coast Titans have been paying some of their playing staff extra on the sly.
With this latest furore over the salary cap has come the usual calls for the cap to be discontinued. Players should be able to earn whatever they can get, say some. It is a restraint of trade, hence illegal, say others. So much for a free market economy, you can hear them say. On the flipside of this, the supporters for a restriction on how much can be spent on player payments will point out that the competition is now a lot more even.
The former may well have some valid points. In the end though, what is of the utmost importance, is the game of Rugby League. Remember, if the game is not in a sound financial position, there will be even less coin floating around for the players to earn. In other words, everyone will be the poorer for it.
So, should the salary cap stay or should it be deregulated and let the clubs go at it open slather?
For mine, I believe that the cap should stay. If it were to be abolished, this would have catastrophic consequences for Rugby League, particularly in New South Wales. And League needs New South Wales to be strong. Rugby League, in its current form, could hardly be said to be a worldwide game. It is restricted, on the whole, to the eastern seaboard of Australia, small pockets of support in New Zealand and played in the north of England. If the NRL were to do away with the salary cap, the Sydney based teams would surely be the ones to suffer.
The richer clubs outside of New South Wales, like one city teams such as Brisbane and Auckland would have a field day pilfering the playing staff of the less wealthy. Super clubs would emerge. Some would say that is good for the game in that it forces other teams to lift their standard up to those top clubs. That’s all well and good, except for the obvious, that if those poorer clubs cannot afford to pay top players to come to their club, then they will more than likely lose more often, ergo, the crowds will start disappearing, less money will come into the coffers of these clubs and then the likes of Cronulla will become even poorer. Eventually they will be forced to close down or merge with other clubs.
Can you imagine the likes of Cronulla joining forces with St George? Maybe Canterbury Bankstown merging with Parramatta? Hell would freeze over before that ever happened. The fans wouldn’t tolerate it. A lot of these fans would simply stop going to the league, and the last thing rugby league needs is for the footballing public of New South Wales to become disenfranchised.
Of course, there will be those that point out that the players should be able to earn whatever they can get, and if they can’t here, then they will head off for greener pastures in the English super league or even possibly Rugby. Which is fine. If they aren’t happy with a piffling $400,000pa in the NRL then let them go and play in an inferior competition for mega bucks in England. There are always talented players coming up through the grades ready to replace them.
We are going to lose players and it will create a competition that is based on mediocrity is the other argument they like to put forward. Well, hello. Where have all these doomsayers been? Week in, week out, we see a tremendous standard of football with games going down to the wire on many occasions. Any team on their day can win.
If in fact the salary cap is preventing the super club from existing, what prey tell do you call Melbourne? After all, this is a club that has played in the last four grand finals, and won two of them. In their fifteen years since their inception they have won three grand finals. Under Coach Craig Bellamy they have consistently brought in players that have been discarded by other clubs and turned them into top line players. Money is not what achieved this: great coaching and having the right structures in place so that the playing staff can perform to their potential is what achieves the desired results.
Have a look at the teams that are performing consistently. Yes, they do have their share of superstar players. But it comes down to more than that. You can throw all the money in the world at the playing personnel, but if they are not well coached and the club’s administration is not of a high level, then that team will not necessarily achieve on the field. And the coach is the vital cog in all of this: not necessarily money.
The above mentioned Craig Bellamy has shown what a great coach can achieve. Phil Gould is another who is capable of achieving great things with teams he has coached. As has Wayne Bennett, with the St George Dragons (not forgetting what he did with Brisbane before that). The classic example is that of Jamie Soward. Until Bennett arrived at the start of 2009, Soward was an underachiever. You could have thrown a million dollars pa at Soward and it would not have made one iota of difference. What did make a difference however was Bennett’s coaching. Clearly Bennett has been able to instil in Soward the confidence to achieve at a level he previously could not. Money had absolutely nothing to do with that.
Of course the NRL could abolish the cap. One rich club could go out and effectively buy the Australian team. They’ll win by thirty every week. Those seventeen players will have all the money they could ever want, while those rugby league lovers out there will get to see a lopsided competition.
Wouldn’t that be great?

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