Would A Marquee Player System Work In Rugby League?

Rugby League simply does not play star players what they are worth to the game.

With the NRL’s salary cap used to keep costs down, keep clubs financially viable and give us a competition that is as even as any competition in world sport, it is difficult to find way in this system to reward players that bring more to the table than 95% of their opposition.

Some players in our game generate headlines, draw crowds and boost TV ratings. We can all try to pretend that no one player is bigger than the game and that Rugby League is a team sport, but the reality is that there are a handful of players who are so good that they generate more money for the game than the rest of their team mates could ever wish to.

We need to reward those players. We need to keep those players in Rugby League. We need to keep them, not just to make those players wealthy, but so that Rugby League can use those players rather than some other sport stepping in and using them.

A few days ago I had someone on Twitter mention to me that maybe Rugby League should look at having a marquee player system similar to the A League where each team is allowed to pay a single players what ever they think they are worth outside of the salary cap. This has also been mentioned in the Daily Telegraph today. While it is a good idea, it does come with some draw backs that the game must look at before proceeding with such a system.

First of all, a system like this would be a financial burden on clubs and we would need to keep on eye on the ability of teams to pay these huge amounts of money on top of the salary cap. Some teams simply may opt not to pay for marquee players because they either can not afford it, or they don’t feel as those any player at the time represents value for money.

The game would need to look at the effect that such a system would have on player salaries and player movement. Lets face it, if such a system was in place right now there is no way the Melbourne Storm would be able to keep Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk all in the same side. If other teams got into a bidding war for a player such as Billy Slater, and his salary was pushed towards $1.5 million per year, guess what the starting point for the next marquee player would begin at.

It may be better for the game to have a limit on what a player can earn from a system such as this. Each team may be better off with a salary cap and then an extra $1 million dollar spending block to spend on one star player that they can not go over, however, the player that takes up that role would be allowed to have as many approved third part sponsors as they like.

In my opinion, only a few players in the game could honestly command the type of money we are talking about here…

Billy Slater, Benji Marshall, Cameron Smith, Jonathan Thurston, Greg Inglis, Sonny Bill Williams, Israel Folau, Jarryd Hayne….there is not many of them.

Keep in mind, this isn’t just a marker of a players ability, or their importance to their club. The Bulldogs for instance don’t have a player in this list. Sure Ben Barba may get there one day, but I think it would be a serious stretch to suggest that he is worth $1 million dollars per year to the Bulldogs just yet.

This may see some clubs take a punt on English Rugby League players or Rugby Union players. This in itself would have a role in inflating player salaries in the NRL, but then again it would be interesting to see what type of buzz it would create in the competition to see these players brought in and tested against the worlds best.

I can’t see Sam Tomkins or James Roby turning down a marquee player contract for a one season stint in the NRL. There are few if any Rugby Union players I could think of that teams would target but we wouldn’t have needed to wonder how someone like a Jonah Lomu would have gone in Rugby League with a system like this in place.

It is exciting to think about, but in a lot of ways it lets the genie out of the bottle. Once she’s out, there is no way of getting her back in. Once players start getting big money outside of the salary cap, more players are going to want that money. More teams are going to spend that money. With only 16 of these contracts on offer, eventually players are going to start to miss out. When that happens they are likely to look at playing other sports to get that money, and at that point Rugby League would find itself in the same position it is in today, but now it would be spending $16 million dollars more on players than before in the process.

I tend to think the NRL salary cap should just be raised. Allow players to command the money they deserve through the natural and controlled salary cap process. Free up third party sponsorship rules that mean less and less as the salary cap rises and make it easier, not harder, for our games elite players to make the most money they can playing the game they love.

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