There is a stark reality that Super League fans and clubs need to accept.
The days of buying decent players from the NRL are over. The days of picking and choosing who they would like to have in their sides are long gone. The days of big name imports have gone the way of the Dodo.
Circumstances have changed so dramatically and so quickly that there are still people within Super League, including some administrators, who do not understand the shift in the Rugby League player market.
Gary Hetherington recently spoke about heading to Australia to sign some star players. Now he is back in Leeds and saying the Rhino’s will not be releasing any players to go and play for NRL clubs. What Gary doesn’t understand is, this is so far beyond him. He has no control over the situation. NRL clubs have millions of dollars to spend and all of them are looking for ANY talent they can find.
If an NRL club wants a player in Super League, they will get them. The money on offer is simply too good to refuse.
It is all well and good for Super League clubs to talk about contracts but we have all seen that if a player is not happy and they want to leave a club, they will find a way to go. You will start to see Super League players signing shorter term contracts because they will not want to have to deal with asking for a release to play in the NRL for more money.
When you have a look at the financial instability within Super League over the last few years, there have been a lot of players that have turned up to work and been told they won’t be paid this month, next month….in fact, a lot of players basically saw their contracts were worth nothing as the club they played for went broke. These guys are professional athletes. They can not afford to sign contracts that may be at risk due to the mismanagement of a club.
Forget the stars, we are going to see players looking to head over and play in Australia at NSW and QLD Cup level because they can earn a similar amount of money, possibly go on to make more money in the NRL if they are good enough, and its all guaranteed.
Super League clubs rely heavily on selling star players to their fan base in an effort to get supporters to by season ticket packages. The way they normally do this is to sell their headline players. It is part of the culture of Rugby League in Great Britain. People get excited about star imports. They focus intensely on opposition players they hate. If that is taken away as import quality falls away and every home grown Super League star heads to the NRL, where does that leave Super League? What will they be selling to the general public?
Super League teams are currently allowed to spend £1.65 million per season on their top 25 players. From 2014 NRL clubs will be allowed to spend £4.25 million on their top 25 players. In 2014 Johnathan Thurston alone will be earning around £940,000 a season. Young English half Gareth Widdop will earn around £340,000 when he moves to the St George/Illawarra Dragons next season. Keep in mind that the NRL salary cap will rise every season over the course of the currently broadcasting deal. That means by 2017 NRL clubs will be allowed top spend £4.71 million per season on players. That is not even taking into account what clubs can spend on reserve grade teams or their National Youth Competition teams.
These are simply numbers Super League clubs can not compete with no matter how many teams they cut the competition back to.
This all means that Super League has officially become a feeder competition to the National Rugby League. This is not going to be a good thing for the long term health of the game in Great Britain.
There is no doubt that the more players that play in the NRL the better the English test side will be. The higher standards of player, the better training, the better coaching and the general player development will help English players improve on their terrible performances at text level over the last 40 years. Will any of that matter though if the club game in Great Britain is allowed to wither and die?
I’ve been saying for a few years now that Rugby League in Great Britain needs to swallow its pride and face the reality of its true standing in the Rugby League world. I believe the RFL needed to come up with a plan that it could take to the ARL that would convince Australian administrators to actually invest in Super League in some capacity. Whether that is to have more competitions between NRL and Super League clubs, to allow NRL clubs to invest in Super League clubs and draw on their junior leagues for talent, or just setting up a talent exchange system that would keep a certain level of talent in the Super League competition….the Rugby Football League should have had something in place to prepare for this set of circumstances. Instead, they are totally unprepared.
With Super League clubs bleeding red ink, and with all of the best players now sure to head over to play in the NRL in the future, you have to question what will become of the Super League competition. I personally believe in the future we will see Super League cut back to being a semi professional competition. If that happens, I could see a scenario where certain team owners look to protect their investment in clubs or cut their losses and sell up. When that starts to happen, look for the Rugby Football Union to step in, take over tradition Rugby League areas for themselves and make sure of some of the better facilities on offer to finally get a foothold in northern England.