NRL players have drawn a line in the sand regarding the ongoing collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations, cancelling upcoming media commitments as a message to the game’s bosses.
After a new salary cap was announced prior to Christmas, the RLPA have fired back and are yet to accept the new CBA for both the male and female players.
Christian Welch revealed there is a ‘lack of trust’ between the NRL and RLPA over the negotiations, which is threatening to drag into the season kick-off in March.
The latest move from the players will see them boycott any NRL-affiliated media appearances or commitments, potentially leaving a massive hole in the content produced prior to the season.
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Cronulla and St George Illawarra both postponed their media days earlier this week, while a scheduled Knights media day on Wednesday has also been put on hold.
At the front and centre of the protest from the players is Broncos forward Kurt Capewell, who told reporters on Tuesday that the group are united and are willing to fight for their equal share in the game’s revenue – even if it comes to not playing the game they love.
“The way I see it is there hasn’t been enough discussion,” he said.
“The NRL have come back with what we believe is a very unfair proposition for a CBA. We have had enough of sitting at a table and not being heard.
“As players, we don’t want it to get to that – we love the game and we would never want to see it not on TV screens and let the fans down. What we want as a playing group is the NRL to come to the table and be ready to negotiate.
“Hopefully it doesn’t come to that. As players, we are all united in taking a stand I’m sure the NRL can finally come to the party and negotiate a fair CBA to make sure that doesn’t hinder our game.”
Rugby league fans may be confused over the CBA negotiation process, particularly when the NRL announced a massive increase to the salary cap last month.
But the agreement between the NRL and RLPA covers a lot more ground than just the players’ salaries, with issues like post-retirement injury funds, private health insurance and percentage share in revenue.
What do the NRL players want from the CBA?
While the salary for the top-tier players seems to be in the right ballpark according to the players, there are still some other major issues which need addressing.
Capewell spoke openly about the areas where the NRL are lowballing the RLPA, and highlighted recently-retired Sharks veteran Andrew Fifita as someone who has been severely impacted.
“That’s right – the CBA controls a lot more than just our salaries. We’re looking to get the whole CBA done right and we want a fair revenue share,” he said.
“We want a fair seat at the table when it comes to discussions and we just want to be heard. It’s not about the wage we are getting – it’s about setting up a fund for past players, looking after our younger boys and our welfare, some of our tertiary education stuff in the CBA is not where we want it to be.
“There are a number of things that they haven’t come to the table with in this specific offer. In terms of our share in revenue, it is going backwards compared to where we were in 2018/19 and obviously COVID has hit and we had to do a bit of a shuffled one.
“Moving forward, our percentage share of revenue and stuff like our private health care, they are trying to change where that sits in our contract. Stuff for our lower-tier guys, we are trying to get it improved for them. We’re all united and hopefully it doesn’t go on for too long and we can come to an agreement.
“At the moment in the CBA, there is not much there for injury fund for past players. Andrew Fifita is a perfect case, he has had to have eight or nine surgeries in 12 months. He would much rather stagger those surgeries out over two or three years, but in the current CBA you have only got 12 months to get your body fixed.
“Until they are willing to negotiate, we are willing to draw a line in the sand and we will make a stand.”
Why are NRL players boycotting media appearances?
With the trial games not for another few weeks and the season still over six weeks away, the players have decided to postpone any NRL-affiliated media commitments until an agreement is reached.
Capewell hopes that the decision will send a message to the likes of Peter V’landys and Andrew Abdo.
“That’s something that as a playing group, we have all decided to do,” he said.
“Hopefully it grabs the NRL’s attention and shows that we aren’t happy.
“At this stage, we’ve got a shoot tomorrow which is a lot of our Broncos stuff – but at the moment, we aren’t doing any NRL stuff and hopefully Peter and Abdo can get to a table and realise it’s starting to have an effect on the game.
“The longer this CBA drags out, the worse it’s going to have an effect.”
Are the NRL players being too greedy?
Contrary to popular belief from a lot of rugby league fans, the salary cap and how much money the biggest stars in the NRL are earning is not the issue for the RLPA.
After the huge increases to the salary cap when it was announced in December, Capewell believes it is the NRL’s way of trying to portray the players in a certain way.
“Obviously it’s their strategy – they try and paint a picture of us,” he said.
“They wave a shiny toy in our face and hope that we are silly enough to run into that CBA. There are still so many parts of the CBA where they are nowhere near it as we think. We are prepared to fight for what think is fair.
“To be honest, the fans have been right behind the players. They can see how the NRL is trying to portray us when they release those sorts of numbers.
“What they don’t see is that those numbers include both male and female CBA – this is the first female CBA and as a playing group, we all want to get it right for the girls and for our young boys coming through.”
Are the NRL players united over the CBA?
With 17 clubs across the competition, as well as the NRLW, it would be tough to get everybody on the same page in such an important discussion.
But according to Capewell, this is the most united the RLPA have ever been on a major issue.
“I think this is the most united the playing group has ever been,” he said.
“We are all like brothers and sisters, we all go through the same things day-in and day-out. We all train our backsides off, we all put our body on the line, we all have a limited career – we as a collective are trying to get the best deal and the fairest deal.
“We have only got a few things we need the NRL to budge on, but when they throw back the deal – we’re not going to stand here and cop it.”