NRL pay dispute: Explaining the players’ CBA negotiations involving NRL and RLPA

Negotiations continue to rumble on between the NRL and Rugby League Players’ Association as both sides attempt to create a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. 

But with the 2023 NRL season due to start in a week, the clock is ticking. Could we be facing the prospect of strike action or a lockout?

Will the NRL players go on strike?

Quite possibly.

This week, the NRL cancelled its season launch for a second consecutive year as a pay dispute with its players remains unresolved.

“Due to the ongoing collective bargaining agreement negotiations, the NRL will not hold a season launch function this Thursday as originally planned,” the statement read.

“The NRL remains focused on making positive progress regarding the joint NRL and NRLW agreements.”

MORE: NRL pay dispute – Why the 2023 season launch has been postponed 

The move comes after Nathan Cleary raised the prospect of striking earlier in the month. 

“We’re prepared to sit out games,” the Penrith halfback declared. 

“It’s obviously not something we want to do (because) it’s robbing the fans of what they want to see. 

“In saying that, it’s something we’re prepared to do to get our fair share.

“I think it’s just about the NRL coming to the party and wanting to find that middle ground where we can have that fair share. At the moment, unfortunately, it hasn’t happened yet, so we’ll have to wait and see.”

This sentiment was supported by Cleary’s former Penrith teammate Kurt Capewell, who went on the record weeks prior voicing similar beliefs about a potential boycott. 

“As players, we don’t want it to get to that,” the Broncos backrower said. 

“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.”

Alternatively, the ARL Commission could go the nuclear option – locking players out and withholding pay until the other side blinks.

What do the players want from the new Collective Bargaining Agreement?

Contrary to popular belief, the players aren’t after more money.

Just before Christmas, the NRL announced increased salary caps for the competitions, which saw the men’s rise by around 25 per cent and women’s by 153 per cent.

The RLPA says the salary cap was determined without consultation and refused to acknowledge many issues the players wanted addressed.

Additionally, they feel the Commission have lacked respect throughout the process.

“To announce new salary caps for players without their agreement and bypassing their association is unprecedented and, to the best of our knowledge, clubs were also not provided with the details of the new salary caps and player payment structure until approximately five minutes before the ARLC’s public announcement,” RLPA chair Deirdre Anderson AM said in a statement following the NRL’s announcement.

“For a governing body to set its own salary cap disrespects the entire player representation movement and the importance of collective bargaining.

“Today’s announcement goes against negotiating in good faith and only damages the trust between the players and the governing body.”

In January, the RLPA outlined exactly what they were campaigning for:

New medical support fund

“In the current CBA players only have 12 months to have any surgeries and rehabilitation paid for that will help fix the injuries they suffered during their careers,” the RLPA have said.

“The players want the game’s first Medical Support Fund to ensure past NRL and NRLW players can have these surgeries covered well into retirement.”


“A CBA for women would provide the contract security players need and the full terms and conditions that would help protect them and their families.”

UPDATE: ‘Big step forward’ – In-principle agreement reached on key terms for the NRLW CBA

Better terms for most vulnerable players

“Players need better training wages, better minimum salaries, more contracts and contract certainty, match fees and transition benefits – all to support players but specifically middle and lower-income earners.”

New past players program

“Players’ careers are getting shorter, and the game is faster and harder.

“It can all be over at any moment, and you don’t always get to choose when that moment is. We need to help NRL & NRLW players transition into life beyond the playing field.”

Fair agreement rights

“Agreement rights include hours worked (obligations), number of matches played, wage structures, when players can secure a contract, pregnancy and parental policies, and fines (which are illegal in other workplaces).”

Improved injury hardship fund

“It needs to account for the additional eligible players (more than 250 across 10 women’s teams and The Dolphins) coming into the CBA model.

“It needs to be expanded to also support players who suffer serious injuries and can’t secure a new contract until fully rehabilitated.”

Fair share of revenue

“If players help the game generate more money than it expects, they should get their fair share.

“That share isn’t just going into salaries. Players want it to fund new programs and benefits that will support current, future and past players.”

Why did NRL players post teal squares on Instagram?

You may have noticed your Instagram feeds get distinctly more teal back in January as NRL and NRLW players banded together amid a dispute with the game’s leadership.

Long story short, it was an effort to shine a light on their position in the ongoing negotiations with the NRL.

All NRL and NRLW players are represented by the Rugby League Players’ Assocation (RLPA).

The RLPA are currently locked in negotiations with the ARL Commission over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

This CBA covers things like the salary cap each club must adhere to, as well as a whole range of other working conditions for players including insurance and post-career support.

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