League: NZRL counting the cost of increased player payments

By Michael Brown

Frank Pritchard of the Kiwis is tackled during the ANZAC Test match between the Australian Kangaroos and the New Zealand Kiwis. Photo / Getty Images
Frank Pritchard of the Kiwis is tackled during the ANZAC Test match between the Australian Kangaroos and the New Zealand Kiwis. Photo / Getty Images

The New Zealand Rugby League are counting the cost of the latest collective bargaining agreement which has proved a windfall for players but a headache for the national body, especially as they weren't even consulted about the new agreement.

The new collective, which came into effect on May 1, has seen player payments for one-off tests between the Kiwis and Kangaroos jump from A$9000 to $20,000. Furthermore, the amount players stand to earn from the World Cup and Four Nations has doubled from $25,000 to $50,000 for being part of the winning team down to $30,000 for third (up from $15,000).

It has been done to try to highlight the importance of international rugby league but it has also come at a cost to the NZRL who have to pay the New Zealand players. Their bill for the Anzac test, for instance, has more than doubled from A$153,000 to $340,000.

What has made it more difficult to stomach for the NZRL is the fact they weren't consulted by the NRL and the Rugby League Players' Association who stitched the new five-year collective agreement together.

"New Zealand Rugby League actually wasn't involved in the negotiation of it so it's fair to say there's a degree of frustration on this side of the Tasman and a degree of embarrassment on the other side,'' NZRL chief executive Phil Holden told Radio Sport.

"A heads of agreement has been reached around international fixtures that the international body hasn't been party to.''

Holden says the relationship with the Australians is like a benevolent aunty, who has your best interest at heart.

"This is certainly a case of best intentions in terms of the overall contract negotiations with the players but it's just thinking through the practicalities of it and the implications on an organisation like us. We tend to be the afterthought and it's like, `oh, gosh, you are right, we should have thought about that in a little more detail'.''

The wider implications centre around what it will mean for various development programmes run by the NZRL. The national body have only in the last five years recovered financially and have big plans around developing other aspects of the game. In this case, however, it might be a matter of robbing Peter to pay Paul (or Benji and Sonny Bill).

"We are working through the implications of that,'' said Holden, who only became aware of the extent of the increase in payments at last month's Anzac test in Canberra.

"The biggest question is the viability of the international game when the players at the elite level have the potential to earn so much money.''

It will also have an impact of UK league, who are not bound by the terms of this agreement but whose players might soon demand comparable payments to their Australian and New Zealand counterparts. With the number of British players appearing in the NRL on the rise, they will be well aware of what the Kiwis and Kangaroos earn.

The upcoming World Cup hosted in the UK, Ireland and France is on track to deliver good profits. The 2008 World Cup delivered a profit of A$5 million and the Anzac test is also a worthwhile moneymaking affair for the NZRL, who share all profits from the match with Australia.

The RLPA and NRL couldn't reached for comment.

- APNZ

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