‘I’m not that stupid’: Why some players aren’t sticking their head up in NRL pay dispute

Key points

  • NRL and RLPA just need to get a deal done
  • Peter V’landys’ future in rugby league
  • Sydney Roosters open a new chicken coop
  • What happens in Noosa, stays in Noosa for Michael Clarke and Karl Stefanovic

Earlier this week, I asked a veteran rugby league player when he was going to stick his head above the parapet and get involved in the dispute between the NRL and RLPA over, well … who knows anymore?

Money, power, whether there should be still or sparkling water in the tearoom.

“I’m not that stupid,” the player smiled. “That’s one battle you can’t win.”

If the NRL and RLPA don’t start conceding inches, which is the whole point of negotiation, over their collective bargaining agreement (CBA), this is a battle that will never end. It will just go on and on until everyone’s dead.

Some players are talking tough about going on strike if their demands aren’t met. The players, united, on $320,000 a year, will never be defeated! As the season edges nearer, we’re about to see just how firm they are on those inflammatory remarks.

Presumably, mooted strike action includes the All Stars match in Rotorua on February 11. Presumably, they’re prepared for the vicious backlash they will feel if they don’t attend such an important cultural fixture.

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo and RLPA boss Clint Newton.Credit:Getty, Getty

No, they’ll hit a soft target — like the NRL’s fancy new pre-season competition.

Let’s call this pay dispute out for what it really is: a clash of egos between NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo and RLPA counterpart Clint Newton.

ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys is the third wheel, of course, and you suspect if he got involved sooner this whole thing could’ve been avoided. Then again, he does relish a fight.

V’landys’ problem is he’s left it to Abdo to hatch a deal and the former commercial officer has proven incapable of getting it done.

Todd Greenberg commemorates Cameron Smith’s 400th NRL game in 2019.Credit:NRL Photos

Abdo’s predecessors, David Gallop and Todd Greenberg, had their faults but maintained a strong relationship with the playing group.

Gallop famously held a conference at Coogee’s Crowne Plaza in 2007 to walk the players through the game’s financials. It was a farce — half the players didn’t even know the meeting was on and those who did lob were wearing thongs and boardies — but the deal got done.

Greenberg ended the last CBA stand-off by breaking bread with Storm captain Cameron Smith over dinner, probably by candlelight. Now on the other side of the fence for the Australian Cricketers’ Association, he’s playing Cricket Australia off a break.

The problem is Abdo views the world through a commercial lens while Newton will tell you all about the lens and what that lens means to rugby league with indecipherable corporate babble without taking a breath.

There’s so much misinformation being leaked it’s impossible to pick a side, but the palpable distrust between the two parties can be summed up neatly in one conversation involving a manager and his player just before Christmas.

On December 23, the NRL announced a salary cap increase from $9.6 million to $12.1 million. It was a Christmas Miracle!

“Hey bruz,” the manager said. “After that salary cap increase, you’re now getting an extra $260,000 over the next three years. Merry Christmas.”

On the surface, the player should be buying V’landys and Abdo lunch for rest of their lives. The truth is, Santa only came down the chimneys of a select few.

The player had a ratchet clause, which many of the top players can negotiate into their deal but those at the bottom end cannot. The managers can easily sell how good the deal is — because they’re taking a six per cent commission.

It was also dirty pool from the NRL because the media release dropped without consultation with the RLPA and immediately painted those who pushed back on it as greedy.

The NRL might be winning the public relations battle, but that move eroded any remaining “good faith” it had with the playing group.

Subsequently, both parties are squabbling over hardship and retirement funds, agreement rights and projected revenue.

The retirement and hardship funds are worth having. Each time an emotional story runs about a player on hard times, or struggling from dementia caused by too many head knocks, fans bleat about the game not doing enough. Big-ups to the players for being passionate about guaranteeing this money.

But even on something as fundamentally good as this, the NRL and RLPA can’t get on the same page.

A News Corp story ran on Wednesday claiming the NRL had offered $200 million for those funds. Newton blew up when he read it, called the reporter, and claimed it was $15 million. That’s some discrepancy.

The RLPA says it wants to control the funds. The NRL says it will have a subcommittee with 50 per cent representatives split down the middle. Tomayto, tomahto? Still or sparkling?

Honestly, it’s like listening to the Hatfields and McCoys.

Newton has said he would be open to all parties getting in a room to work things out. Maybe they should’ve got a room six months ago.

Here’s some advice for free, in corporate-speak: all parties need to stop boiling the ocean, open the kimono, trim the fat and get a frikkin’ deal done.


Meanwhile, V’landys has denied growing speculation that he will stand aside once the CBA is signed, which could be in 2045 the way things are going.

Indeed, there’s already talk about the always vibrant Kate Jones, the former Queensland Minister for Tourism, taking on the role.

V’landys term ends in March next year.

“No, I’m not looking to go just yet,” he said. “There’s still plenty of work to do. But any well-run organisation has a succession plan.”


The Roosters unveiled their $10 million Centre of Excellence on Tuesday night, rightfully naming it after long-standing chairman Nick Politis. He had some zingers in his speech, too.

First, Politis mentioned how James Packer was on the board when he joined in 1993 but “we won’t talk about him too much because he crossed the line”. Packer is now part-owner of South Sydney.

He also pointed out how the club has a whopping $150 million of assets on its books, which is far more than the NRL. After sending his apologies for not attending, Andrew Abdo mysteriously arrived an hour late for the function.

The Roosters’ centre of excellence has a secret reading room.

The training facility is under Allianz Stadium’s northern grandstand and features the state-of-art facilities expected of premiership-winning football teams.

But the real highlight is “The Foundation Room”, a curated museum with a secret reading room behind a large wooden door. Broadcaster Frank Hyde’s call of Eastern Suburbs’ 1974 grand final win over Canterbury is on a loop.

Meanwhile, the players in attendance looked like lean, mean rugby league machines courtesy of a ludicrous 40-hour fast initiated by newly appointed nutritionist and legendary former fullback Anthony “The Mincat” Minichiello.

At 81, Politis doesn’t look like slowing down. He informed those in attendance he didn’t intend to hand over the chairmanship for a few more years.

The Roosters’ museum, which is called “The Foundation Room”.


Clearly, former Australian captain Michael Clarke and Today Show host “Karlos” Stefanovic have done a handshake deal to never mention the war otherwise known as their rumble in the Noosa jungle earlier this month.

Their respective silence on the matter proves it. Clarke said very little when he returned to the airwaves on Monday morning on the Big Sports Breakfast.

He still has a noticeable legacy from the incident, though: a blackened leg after badly tearing his hamstring during the fracas.


Australian runner Peter Bol’s very public reaction to returning a positive A-sample for banned substance EPO is a study in crisis management.

Generally, athletes go to ground when they become embroiled in a drugs scandal. Bol did interviews with both Nine Newspapers and News Corp, declaring his innocence.

It’s no surprise given he is managed by The Fordham Company, which has dealt with a few crises of late involving broadcaster Lisa Wilkinson and crocodile wrangler Matt Wright.

Athletics Australia also showed rare speed and agility, getting Bol’s name out there before he was named Young Australian of the Year, as many expected. (Instead, that accolade went to Socceroo Awer Mabil).

Alas, beating a drugs ban is more than a public relations exercise, especially for EPO, which only stays in the body for a small amount of time.

“You’re a pub team.” — The words in a dressing-room spray that reportedly prompted Macarthur FC to sack Dwight Yorke as coach less than a year after his appointment. It must have been one helluva serve from the former Manchester United star to tear up his contract.

My column earlier this week comparing Phil Gould to George Costanza sparked some gems from our readers: “Kyle Flanagan — I choose not to run”; “Waiting for Gus to announce that Vanderlay Industries have signed as a jersey sponsor”; “Gus is also known to wear velvet and eat blocks of cheese whilst watching training”; “I wonder if Gus sleeps under his desk?”

It never ceases to amaze that players and/or people whinge about two things every year concerning the Australian Open. First, that it’s hot — welcome to summer. Second, that some matches finish late — welcome to night sessions of grand slam tennis. Why don’t we play the tournament in a freezer and put a time limit on games?

It’s a big weekend for … the Sydney Sevens, the three-day dress-up, drink-a-lot, maybe-watch-some-rugby extravaganza at Allianz Stadium starting Friday. Australia’s men’s team meets Brazil on Friday at 1.50pm while the women’s team meet Spain at 8.03pm. Should be a lot of fun in the city’s new fancy-schmancy stadium.

It’s an even bigger weekend for … Novak Djokovic, who I can exclusively reveal may or may not have a dodgy hamstring as he presses for a 10th Australian Open title. He needs to get past American Tommy Paul in the semi-final on Friday, then the winner of the other semi between Stefanos Tsitsipas and Karen Khachanov in the final. I have a torn right calf if anyone cares.

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