The 2013 Super League season was a worrying one for fans of the sport in Great Britain. It felt like a tipping point had been reached as more clubs than ever faced financial oblivion while National Rugby League clubs officially began to cherry pick players they wanted from Super League clubs.
Pretty much the only shining light this season was the games introduction to Marwan Koukash.
Koukash stepped in and saved the Salford Reds. He looked around the rest of Super League and started to make changes to the club. He brought in a new coaching staff and made no bones about the fact he was willing to spend what ever it takes to make his club the best in the competition.
Koukash changed the clubs name to the Salford Red Devils and started buying up big. It was ironic that many Super League clubs that used the salary cap merely as a guide started to question how the Red Devils were able to spend so much on players.
Throughout this process Marwan Koukash was unapologetic.
Koukash, no doubt excited to find out that success is as easy as writing out a few cheques, found a love for Rugby League. As man with a very successful racing background, he is used to chasing success. International success.
Now Koukash is openly talking about luring the likes of Sonny Bill Williams and Billy Slater to Salford. He went as far as to give Sonny Bill Williams and his manager a tour of the Red Devils facilities.
When it comes to luring superstar players anywhere in the world, money talks. Sure certain goals and ambitions are factored in, but at the end of the day you can lure any player to any club if you offer him enough money.
The money on offer these days in Super League is a world away from the National Rugby League. The truly elite players in the NRL start negotiating contracts at more than $1,000,000 per season. That doesn’t even take into account bonuses they receive for playing State Of Origin games or Test matches. It also doesn’t take into account personal sponsorship deals.
Just as a guide, it is rumoured that the Brisbane Broncos are offering Australian captain Cameron Smith $1.4 million per season to join them in 2015.
This means that any Super League club that is looking to lure a truly elite player away from the NRL will have to come up with a bank busting amount of money just to be part of the negotiation process.
I’ve been critical of the Sydney Roosters and the NRL this season in regards to Sonny Bill Williams and his impact on crowds and marketing. It seems as though officials are more than willing to sing his praises and talk about the direct financial boost he has provided to the game, yet no one has been willing to step up and make sure Sonny Bill Williams stays in the NRL.
My feeling is that if SBW really does add thousands to the gate at any game he plays in, and he has an impact on TV ratings, then pay him what he is worth to the game. Stop trying to undercut him by offering him less money than he is worth to the game.
That is where Marwan Koukash comes into the mix.
Koukash doesn’t have a board to answer to. He is the boss and what he says goes. If Marwan Koukash really wants to sign Sonny Bill Williams for his club, and he is willing to pay close to, if not more than $2 million per season to get him, Rugby Football League officials should tell him to go for it!
It would not only be a massive boost for the Salford Red Devils, but a boost for Super League as well. Sonny Bill Williams would be a player that administrators could use to draw in sponsors and get some more money into the game.
There is little doubt Sonny Bill Williams would boost Salford’s crowds in a big way. He would also boost crowds at away games the club played, putting money into the pockets of every other club in Super League.
Would it be a financially sound move by Salford themselves? Probably not. It’s highly unlikely they would earn back the money they spend on Sonny Bill Williams simply because Super League doesn’t have the ability to sell him to the same wide audience that the National Rugby League has the ability to in Australia and New Zealand.
Still, if Marwan Koukash is happy enough to put the money up just for the fun of it, why not allow it to happen?
There is an underlying issue here though. If you allow one club to spend well over the salary cap to secure even one marquee player, every other club is going to want to do the same thing. That is a massive issue in a competition where close on half the clubs are fighting for their lives right now to fend off going into administration.
There is no getting the genie back in the bottle once it is out. If you allow clubs to buy players outside of the salary cap (Which at its current level is already completely unsustainable) you are inviting clubs to spend themselves to death.
Even clubs that get by thanks to the charity of rich bakers, like Salford, would be in trouble. There is a big difference between tipping in money here and there to balance the books, and having to spend $1 million of your own money just to secure the services of one player. Only the extremely wealthy can manage to justify spending like that.
I really like Marwan Koukash simply for the fact that he has looked over Super League, realised the top clubs don’t play by the rules, and has made the decision that he will simply outspend everyone else to build a winning team.
Other clubs will whinge about what he is doing. Their fans will not realise that is why their own clubs win games too! Marwan Koukash is just going to play the game on a much bigger scale than anyone else can afford.
If that means we see Sonny Bill Williams and Billy Slater wearing a Salford Red Devils jersey, great! I say go for it! It’s his money, he is willing to spend it, he can more than afford it, and everyone will get some benefit out of it.
Would the Rugby Football League see the benefits of allowing a club to secure the likes of Sonny Bill Williams? Who knows! They are probably too busy selling the games soul as they negotiate hybrid contests no one wants to see played…
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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