Salary caps crush the hopes of sports’ hardest-dying fans
At 6.30am most weekends this winter, a small but dedicated bunch of bleary-eyed fencing contractors, video shop owners, plumbers, lawn mowers, pensioners and mums and dads will gather at Mary McKillop Oval, in sleepy Kincumber on the Central Coast to get on with a long, unpaid labour of love.
They’ll make sure that the two mini ovals and one mod oval are set out perfectly according to the rugby league rules. They’ll make sure that all of the sponsors’ signage throughout the day is visible.
They’ll make sure that the rosters for the canteen, the BBQ and the clothing stall are covered. During the day they’ll ensure that all the strict rules of the Rugby League Code are adhered to.
From 7.30am, their ranks will be swelled by the parents who give up countless hours coaching and managing, attending Leaguesafe courses and guiding the development of the young Kincumber Colts - and to give all players of different talent equal care and attention. Mary McKillop will be a sea of red, as players, parents and fans proudly wear their club colours. And the 6.30am brigade will still be there, well past 6.30pm, for the day’s “around the grounds” team wrap-up, a couple of beers and a laugh.
And that’s no different to dedicated bands of parents and supporters in Wollongong, and Penrith and Mascot and Ipswich and Swansea. The big difference is the underlying sadness of everyone in the League family on the Central Coast that that their sons and daughters, in around 300 junior teams, have no local club to aspire to play for or support. We sit and wait for 16 other clubs from far away to come and pick over us like some low-rent rugby league garage sale.
And this is why the salary cap is killing the game.
It’s a self-serving mechanism to ensure that existing clubs survive at the expense of the kids of the Central Coast, and areas like it. It props up clubs who are either poorly managed or who are succumbing to inevitable demographic pressures, or a combination of both. It’s sapping the energy of clubs and the League as they spend countless hours enforcing its needless rules or trying to find ways around it.
And it’s driving our best players away – limiting the group of players from the top down. It mitigates against junior development because clubs can say “that’s all too hard – such and such comes on the market next year and he’ll answer all prayers”. The CEOs in one respect are right – there might not be enough players to expand because the stupid salary cap is driving them away.
Scrap the salary cap and clubs will rise and fall. And that will be sad for some. I saw my North Sydney Bears fall by the wayside, along with Newtown, Wests, Balmain and Souths mark 1. But in their stead have grown some immensely strong and powerful new clubs, in growth areas, who have strengthened the game. Giving Souths to private owners was an emotional and divisive move at the time, but the members had the guts to do it, and now they’re flying.
Of course, the argument of the Club CEOs, and I heard one use it on Tuesday, is (said with deep and solemn significance) “well you don’t want us to become like the English Premier League”.
Bollocks. I can’t believe how many otherwise intelligent people have fallen for this Big Lie. First, the EPL is first-past-the-post so you buy the best players you probably win on average. We have a semi-final system that adds risk and uncertainty.
Second, our game is harder and players get injured more often so if your total strategy is to buy the best players then you will get found out. Just have a look at the Cowboys.
Finally, soccer is a world game awash with multi-billionaires who buy football teams as to boost their egos. Rugby League and Australia is not.
Asking the CEOs what to do with the cap is like asking the foxes whether the door to then hen-house should be left open. They will always promote self-interest. They have blocked extension of the game because they might have to compete with better managed clubs. They blocked the Central Coast because it was their “get out of jail free” card if they had to re-locate and it remains their lucky-dip for player talent.
I believe that David Gallop is a fine man and deserves the country’s praise for how he has rescued the game from the post-Super League fall-out. But these days he, and his colleagues, are too close to the clubs. The Rugby League needs an independent commission made up of men and women with the courage to realise the disaster that the salary cap has become, to get rid of it and let clubs rise and fall for the health of the game.
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