NRL clubs are expected to be more supportive of representative football after a proposal to provide salary cap relief if a star player suffers a long-term injury in a Test or State of Origin was endorsed at Tuesday’s CEOs conference.
The plan, which is expected to receive final approval at the next ARLC meeting on June 7, would enable clubs to spend up to $350,000 to replace a player ruled out for a minimum of 12 matches because of an injury sustained in a representative fixture.
The compensation would have benefited Canberra after losing hooker Josh Hodgson until round 17 with a knee injury sustained while playing for England during last year’s World Cup as the Raiders could have retained Kurt Baptiste or signed another replacement.
The policy will apply to NRL players involved in the upcoming State of Origin, the Pacific Test double-header featuring Samoa versus Tonga and PNG versus Fiji, the Denver Test and end-of-season series between New Zealand and England, and any other international fixtures.
Players injured in the annual All Stars match will also be covered, with clubs able to sign a replacement in a like-for-like position for the remainder of the season.
Key points of the proposal include:
- Clubs to receive a salary cap exemption for the pro-rata value of the injured player’s contract, up to a maximum of $350,000;
- There is no limit on the number of players from each club entitled to salary cap relief if they suffer a long term injury in a representative match;
- If the club has a place left in their Top 30 squad, the injured player must be ruled out for a minimum of 12 matches and cannot make an early return, and;
- If the club does not have a roster spot left, they can sign a 31st player but the injured player must be ruled out for the season.
This would apply to any player injured in Origin III on July 11 at Suncorp Stadium as all clubs must finalise their 30-man rosters by June 30.
In addition, the NRL’s transfer deadline is June 30 so clubs are expected to either promote a development player or recruit from Super League, the second-tier NSW Intrust Super Premiership and Queensland’s Intrust Super Cup competitions or rugby union.
NRL salary cap auditor Richard Gardham believes clubs will be more willing to release players for representative fixtures if they know they will be compensated for injuries.
“I think there is a component there in terms of supporting more representative football,” Gardham said. “We saw with City-Country last year and clubs, some people might say reasonably, wanted to withhold players because they were worried about injury.
“I think this gives that additional comfort blanket to clubs knowing that there are options to strengthen their squad if a player goes down with a long term injury.
“It provides some compensation for clubs for developing players, training players and paying players to play NRL. The player then gets rewarded with a rep jersey [but] if the player gets injured the club can’t access that player again so it’s given the clubs some form of compensation from a cap perspective.”
Gardham said the $350,000 ceiling for salary cap relief was based on the average wage for an NRL player during the course of the current broadcast deal, from 2018 until 2022.
“It also manages down the financial pressure on clubs if a star goes out, recognising that if a $1 million player goes down a lot of clubs will not have a $1 million available to sign a replacement player,” he said.
The size of the salary cap exemption a club is entitled to will depend on the amount of the injured player’s contract and the number of Telstra Premiership rounds left, with $350,000 covering a $1 million player ruled out for 12 rounds.
Replacement players must be retained for the duration of the season and had to play a like-for-like position.
“If a hooker goes down we expect a hooker to be signed and if an outside back goes down it will have to be an outside back,” Gardham said.