Storm star Christian Welch says players “won’t be bullied” by the NRL while declaring female players are the real victims of the messy breakdown in collective bargaining agreement discussions.
This time of year is when clubs usually open the doors to the media in a bid to put on some positive spin leading into the new season, but the Sharks, Dragons and Knights have already cancelled events with other teams set to follow.
The boycott of the NRL’s media arm could be the first of several big moves in the coming weeks as frustrated players try to get their point across.
The CBA should have been finalised in November, but as Welch revealed, nothing got sorted out in a testy 12 months that could lead to players boycotting the opening round of the season.
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That’s something they want to avoid because they don’t want to punish the fans, but pressure will mount on NRL CEO Andrew Abdo and ARLC chairman Peter V’Landys as more players start to voice their anger.
“Everything’s on the table,” Welch told the NCA NewsWire.
“Since last November – not the one just gone, I’m talking 2021 – that’s when we started to get the ball rolling, and that’s why it’s so frustrating. The NRL just hasn’t been interested in engaging with one of their main stakeholders to work out a CBA.
“We’ve been trying to do the right thing by not kicking up a stink, and the biggest thing for the players is that we don’t want to take away from the fans because they’re the ones who support clubs and buy season memberships and jerseys.
“Many times throughout the year out of our frustrations with the NRL, we wanted to take some action. You look at State of Origin, you look at the finals series and the World Cup – no player action was taken because we didn’t want to hurt the fans.
“It’s really frustrating when we’re acting in good faith but it’s all falling on deaf ears. That’s why all things are on the table.
“We’re still training and playing, but you would have seen that we’ve pulled back on NRL media commitments, and there’s a whole variety of action that we could take. Hopefully it doesn’t get to that, but it’s been so frustrating.”
The NRL announced huge increases to the 2023 salary cap in a move that was supposed to smooth things out with the players, but instead it backfired.
“I know why they’re doing it,” said Welch, who is an RLPA Director.
“You look at V’Landys and Abdo and they’re trying to keep the people who can throw them out of a job happy.
“Our claims are completely reasonable, and the biggest sticking points are non-financial. This big hold up isn’t because of the salary cap being far off, it’s a number of things the NRL isn’t even willing to talk to us about.
“I don’t know what they’ve been doing throughout the year.
“We’d go into negotiations and Andrew Abdo wasn’t present. I like to think that this would be a pretty high priority for the NRL to work with the players on.
“They bring an external consultant like Hugh Marks along, and if we’re talking about cutting back costs, I’d like to know how much they pay him. I thought he was really reasonable, but he didn’t have any power in those discussions to make calls, so it just dragged on and didn’t go anywhere.
“Let’s get back to the table, get a CBA done that benefits both parties and then we can grow our great game across Australia.”
Welch bemoaned how much better the relationship was in Melbourne between the AFL and the AFLPA, and said the stalled negotiations were hurting the game’s most vulnerable people.
“The big thing is the women,” he said.
“They can’t sign contracts, they’re vulnerable, they don’t know season dates or lengths, and it’s so hard on them because it’s still part-time work. It’s not good enough for the NRL to take so long.
“This isn’t about money.
“The RLPA is going to release a document in the next few days that will state every criteria of the offer that came through on Friday is going backwards from what was established from 2018-22.”
The players are so fed up that more than 50 of them held a meeting on Monday night to discuss their next moves.
“I think the NRL are banking on breaking up the solidarity of the players. They’re trying to bully us into submission,” Welch said.
“They released a salary cap and gave us 48 hours before Christmas to accept it and then published it anyway to try to break our unity. If anything, it’s strengthened it.
“There were some passionate blokes on that call on Monday who are ready to take action. We don’t want to get to this, but the reality is the NRL aren’t listening to us, so we’ll take action going forward.”