Phil Gould denounces NRL ‘blackmail’ as uncertainty swirls over 2023

The lack of clarity over a salary cap for the 2023 NRL season and a shortened pre-season for the game’s best players is a cause for concern, says Phil Gould.

The Rugby League Players’ Association is locked in negotiations with the NRL over its next collective bargaining agreement which is due to come into force next year and will run until the end of the current TV broadcasting agreement – at the end of 2027.

One of the sticking points of the deal is an increase to the salary cap, with reports stating it will move to $10.4 million in 2023 but nothing has been signed off yet.

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“As a professional game we don’t even know what the salary cap is going to be for next year,” the Bulldogs’ GM of football said on Wide World of Sports’ Six Tackles with Gus podcast.

“We should know what the salary cap is going to be for the next five years.

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“We should have known it five months ago, I don’t know how they expect clubs to plan and do their work when we are held up by this ridiculous negotiating process every time there’s a CBA to negotiate. It’s blackmail.”

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The lengthy talks come as the Dolphins enter their inaugural year and the NRL moves the season a week earlier in March to accommodate a 27 round competition, with each club to have three byes.

Adding to the confusion and uncertainty is the Rugby League World Cup, says Gould, which will result in each club’s representative stars playing into November. Due to their annual leave requirements, that will ensure that many don’t return to their clubs until well into the new year.

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“It will be a tiring season for our very best players who play in that competition,” he added.

“They don’t come to training until after Christmas, they have a very short prep heading into next year. It’s ridiculous. I can never understand the players’ association for insisting to all of this. They should leave it to the experts. They should leave it to the players.

“They say ‘you should have this much time off’. There’s no holidays when you’re a professional footballer.

“I think it’s going to be to the detriment of players who come back after Christmas trying to prepare for trial games in February and the competition, which starts earlier in March, with a longer season next year with 27 rounds.”

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The 2023 season will now last 31 weeks – including 27 rounds and four weeks of finals.

The season will most likely kick off on Thursday, March 2, giving the competition its earliest start date in over 20 years.

Pre-season matches are scheduled to begin at the start of February, with the Indigenous All Stars v Maori All Stars clash to take place on the weekend of February 10-12, while the Charity Shield will take place the following weekend.

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