Rugby: New contracting regime annoys Aussies

Scott Higginbotham. Photo / Getty Images
Scott Higginbotham. Photo / Getty Images

Wallabies flanker Scott Higginbotham has voiced his frustration at Australian rugby's new contracting regime which has been complicated by the cloud over a proposed Super Rugby salary cap.

While fellow Test back-rower Wycliff Palu knocked back a lucrative Japanese offer on Monday to re-sign with the Australian Rugby Union, Higginbotham is annoyed by a process which is leaving more players in limbo.

Despite playing in a 15-team competition where 10 foreign teams aren't restricted by a salary cap, Australia's Super Rugby teams have been told they must adhere to the equalisation measure once a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is finalised.

But negotiations between the ARU and the Rugby Union Players Association (RUPA) over the CBA have hit a major speedbump and the cap amount remains undetermined.

RUPA wants to see a cap of $AU4.8 million but if the two bodies don't agree on the ever-lingering CBA, the figure will stand at $AU4.1 million in 2013 and reduce to $AU3.9 million in 2014.

However if the CBA, first ratified in 2004, rolls over, a cap technically can't be enforced, while it also won't apply to the privately-owned Melbourne Rebels.

In a bid to rein in its spending, the Australian Rugby Union has also decentralised its contracting system with less players given national top-up deals.

Top-up offers are now made after players negotiate with the provinces first, whereas in the past it was the reverse where negotiations started at a national level and Super Rugby contracts were even across the board, apart from third-party deals.

Now top-line players are agreeing to offers from their province on the proviso they receive the top-up they expect from the ARU, prompting players to then look overseas or interstate when it's not forthcoming.

That's the situation that Higginbotham, among others, has been left in following positive discussions with Queensland before starting negotiations with the ARU last month.

Although the in-form 25-year-old is now rated ahead of former Test skipper Rocky Elsom as Australia's best No.6, he's currently weighing up interest overseas and interstate.

The 25-year-old admitted his frustration at the new system as he flew back into Brisbane on Monday morning following the Reds' 15-11 loss to the Crusaders.

"I'm definitely frustrated by it, what player's not?" he said. "It (contract negotiations) is a tough thing to go through. It's not the most enjoyable time, especially when you just want to do your job.

"It's all pretty complicated and it's hard to sort stuff out when you don't have a guarantee with the ARU, but it's always tough."

While it was last week reported he'd agreed to a new two-year deal with Queensland, Higginbotham denied he'd agreed on anything.

"I obviously want to stay in Queensland," he said. "But it's just a process of going back and forth with my manager and I'm trying to stay out of it as much as I can."

- AAP

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