The NRL and its clubs are all flushed with cash. With ticket sales, merchandise, deals with local governments and the broadcasting deal all bringing hundreds of millions of dollars into the sport every single year.
The NRL grant to clubs covers all players payments and then some, so don’t think this is about the business side of the game. At this stage, it is almost impossible for and NRL club to go broke.
This article is about how, over the last decade or so, despite all the finances of clubs being covered, we have still managed to see some side not only have poor seasons on the field, but in some cases poor decades. In a salary cap controlled competition, this should also just about be impossible…but all the money in the world can’t help a club spend the money they get in the right way.
The Newcastle Knights were turned from a team who punched above their weight on the field into statistically one of the worst teams in the entire history of the stop grade not too long ago. They have been fighting for so long to try and build themselves back up, to the point where they now sit in 7th place on the NRL ladder and they can now start to think about putting that dreadful era behind them.
That has taken a very, very long time though.
The Wests Tigers have not made the finals in 11 straight season. They are just about to “win” their second straight wooden spoon. To think that the days of being able to joke about the Tigers being in 9th place were “the good old days” to some of the clubs younger supporters. What a dreadful decade.
Then we have the Canterbury Bulldogs, a team that has also had a very bad decade, with a salary cap scandal, also putting in some of the worst seasons in the history of the game, and yet they still find themselves just off the bottom of the ladder dispute a serious effort to rebuild the clubs playing stocks.
One lesson we have got out of the NRL competition over the last 20 years is that a team can’t be allowed to get into a completely hopeless situation and manage to dig themselves out of that hole any time soon. When a club finds itself getting so terribly run that no matter who a club signs, no matter who the coach is, no matter what big announcement they make, the losses keep coming and there is no real rebuilding, just continuous losses.
That begs the question, should the NRL step in at some point with certain clubs when they hit that crisis point?
How would the NRL step in to help a club that has lost its way so badly? They can’t give salary cap concessions, you can’t go rewarding terrible administration. You also can’t really have anyone from the NRL stepping in and trying to make infield personnel decisions for a club, for obvious reasons.
Could we see the NRL step in and sort out a clubs junior development system? Maybe.
I personally think one of the ways a club can be turned around is through members of the club voting out current board members, forcing a change of management at those clubs, and hopefully leading towards a change of on field performance. What do you do at privately owned clubs though? What about joint venture clubs like the Wests Tigers who don’t even allow their board to face elections?
It’s is a very complicated issue, and one with no silver bullet remedy.
One thing is for certain. When we see completely bottom out it leads to an endless cycle of failure. Teams end up struggling to pull their playing squad out of poor effort and poor decisions. Its like a disease of failure, to the point where a club can cycle their entire squad over the course of a couple of years, bring in players from other clubs, and yet the disease is still there.
It is really bad for the game overall to have had teams like the Knights, Bulldogs and Tigers to have had seasons that we have seen over the last ten years. Not to mention the damage it does to those clubs themselves.
The health of the entire league can in many ways be gauged by how poorly off its worst clubs are. Financially, they are fine. On the field…thats a different story.
The Brisbane Broncos have shown that a couple of terrible seasons can be turned around pretty quickly by smart management. The Redcliffe Dolphins have shown us that you can have not a single players on your NRL squad in 2022, and yet by 2023 you can still manage to put together a team that is’t a total failure, and who might not be a world beater, but they will at least compete in most games. Even the Gold Coast Titans have show you can not be that good, but you can at least have a side that can do some real damage on its day and develop top of the line talent, even if you do miss the finals.
There is no excuse at all for having season after season where you completely bottom out.
What the NRL itself can do to stop that cycle, who knows. One thing I do know is that we need to stop teams from getting so bad they crash out for a decade at a time.
The way to fix that isn’t just the salary cap, its certainly not a draft, it doesn’t just come down to a coaching change, and a buying spree can be useless as well.
Change needs to start at the top or those clubs. A new board, a new CEO and new football staff.
Good luck forcing changes like that at clubs where the management think they have a right to their positions for life…