Marquee Player System Has Flaws That Concern Me

The idea of each club being able to sign one player outside of the salary cap sounds like a great idea. Anything to keep the best players in the world sounds fantastic. I’m the first to say that the NRL needs to do something to make sure our elite players remain in Rugby League….but the marquee signing system has it’s flaws….

First and foremost, are there 16 players that NRL clubs could sign that are worthy of setting up a marquee player system for them?

Yes Israel Folau would be the first player signed up. Sonny Bill Williams might stay too. Benji Marshall might even reconsider leaving the game if a club offered him enough money that was too good to refuse.

Throw in Johnathan Thurston at the Cowboys. Greg Inglis at the Rabbitohs. The big three at the Melbourne Storm would be worth it. That’s only 8 players!

I can tell you right now that there are not superstars in Super League worthy of a marquee player payment. NRL clubs might decide to target some Rugby Union player, but really, are any of them worthy of walking into the NRL as one of the highest paid players in the game from day one?

A marquee player system also opens up the opportunity for salary cap rorting. Let’s take the Melbourne Storm as an example, just for now.

If the Melbourne Storm sign Cameron Smith up as their marquee player, that leaves Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk open to offers from other clubs. Sure the Storm would make them big offers under the salary cap, but that wouldn’t stop opposition teams throwing huge offers their way and trying to entice them away from the Storm.

In an ideal world every NRL club would end up with one marquee player. Right?

So what happens if the Storm decide to roll their marquee player slot over one year at a time between Smith, Slater and Cronk? Sign them all up to contracts under the regular salary cap of say $600,000, and they all know that when it is their turn to be the clubs marquee player, they earn $2 million for one season….every three years.

Right there you’ve found a loophole in the salary cap. If I’m thinking of these work a rounds to the salary cap, you can be sure that NRL clubs are!

The NRL could put restrictions on the marquee player slot, but that causes problems of it’s own.

They have to allow a club to use it on a player already on their books. Otherwise a player a club develops themselves will have to leave a club to get what they are worth elsewhere. We simply can’t have that.

Putting a minimum contract length on a marquee player signing also opens up problems. It means that clubs would be forced to make massive financial commitments to players worth millions of dollars. Sometimes clubs might get the opportunity to sign a player just for one season. Should we prevent that from happening? I don’t think we should.

You also have to consider that the current NRL salary cap, and the rises in the cap over the next few years, were carefully considered by the NRL and clubs themselves. They were set at levels the game could afford.

Allowing clubs to spend any money outside of the salary cap on players is courting danger. It is just asking for a poorly run club (and there are plenty of those!) to commit more money to player than it can afford to. Not a smart idea.

I tend to think the best marquee player system should be controlled and payed for by the NRL. Call it a standard marketing payment from the governing body.

I’ve said for years that the very best players are worth millions in marketing to the game. Think of someone like Darren Lockyer…how much was he worth to Rugby League in Queensland every year of his career just in marketing terms.


If the NRL itself controlled the marquee player system, and offered a flat payment of $500,000 per season, per club to one player of each clubs choosing, that would cut down on the ability to use the system as a salary cap work around.

It would also still force clubs to work hard to get the remainder of a top players salary under their salary cap. So a player like Johnathan Thurston would still need to be on the North Queensland Cowboys salary cap for $800,000+, which seems fair.

This of course would mean that the NRL itself would need to find an extra $8 million per season to cover marquee player payments, but I trust them with the job far more than I would if it was in the hands of NRL clubs to find that extra money.

Between a players payment under the salary cap, a marquee player payment from the NRL, representative bonuses and personal sponsors, players like Thurston and Inglis would be pushing $2 million per season.

There are not too many players in the world that are worth THAT much to Rugby League.

Opening up a marquee player system will solves some problems the game has. The NRL has the money, there should never be a reason for the competition to lose any player hat carries any sort of value from now on. A marquee player system does also open up a few possible problems though.

As the end of The Super League War showed us, when player salaries get out of control it takes many years to reign them back in. During that process, you are likely to lose players to Rugby Union who are unwilling to take a pay cut.

If the NRL let’s the genie out of the bottle, it would be able to get it back in. Opening up a marquee player system needs to be carefully considered. If it happens, it needs to be handled the right way. Otherwise Rugby League will just end up making more problems for itself.

Liked it? Take a second to support League Freak on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Leave a Reply