Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Warriors have ammunition to target rugby stars

Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah discusses the club's ability to target rugby players. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah discusses the club's ability to target rugby players. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Get ready for more rugby talent at the Warriors. The new broadcasting deal makes Mt Smart an even more attractive destination for players from the rival code.

The recently-inked A$1.029 billion ($1.3 billion) deal with Australian broadcasters Channel Ten and Fox Sports will see a massive injection of cash into the sport. It is a significantly larger figure than Sanzar received for the Rugby Championship and Super Rugby rights and will result in multi-million dollar cash payments to each club and expected year-on-year salary cap increases until 2018.

"It's a pretty decent boost for the club," says Warriors CEO Wayne Scurrah, "and there will be an increase in what can be offered across the board.

"We have been able to attract junior rugby players but we can probably put together a good package now for the higher-end players. It doesn't mean we will be targeting rugby players but we certainly can.

NRL players will easily be the highest-paid players in Australasia across the rugby codes."

The salary cap, currently at A$4.4 million ($5.6 million), is expected to increase to A$5 million ($6.4 million) next year, eventually growing to A$7 million ($9 million) by 2018.

As a result, it is anticipated league will soon have its first $1 million a year player. Johnathan Thurston is said to be the game's biggest earner (nearly A$700,000) but the increased cap plus third party deals should push that kind of player into seven figure territory.

"Most clubs have spent their [additional 2013] cap already," says prominent player agent Peter Brown. "Personally, we hope the minimum wage will also be lifted so that the second tier of players are looked after."

The current NRL minimum of A$55,000 ($70,000) is expected to increase to around A$70,000 ($90,000).

Apart from rugby recruits, the other main impacts of the deal on the Warriors in the short term are off the field. Scurrah says the fixed scheduling of the season, where match dates and times are set in stone for the first 20 weeks of each year, will have a huge impact.

"I think we will benefit from that probably more than any other club," says Scurrah. "It will help our members and fans as well as the football and operations side."

Until now, match details have been confirmed only five weeks before each match. It has meant the Warriors have had to hold flights and hotel bookings across a series of days for each away game and pencil in three dates at Mt Smart each weekend. It has stymied fans' ability to make long term plans to follow their team on either side of the Tasman.

"We have lots of fans all across Australia and New Zealand and it will now be much easier for then to make plans to follow their side," says Scurrah.

"The previous scheduling arrangements have also tied up huge amounts of time for some of our operations staff which will now be freed up to focus on other matters."

The deal will also see each NRL club receive a cash grant of A$6 million ($7.7 million).

Scurrah says a lot of that money will go towards off-field projects and improvements in areas such as sports science, medical conditioning and youth development that were all earmarked back in July when owners Eric Watson and Owen Glenn announced grand plans for the club.

- Herald on Sunday

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