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Rep stars cop financial hit to maintain top 30 squads in new pay deal

The NRL's elite representative players will sacrifice a collective $3 million in Origin payments to ensure their minimum wage counterparts do not have their salaries impacted by a reduced salary cap.

Six months of negotiations between the NRL and Rugby League Players Association have finalised a six per cent reduction in the base salary cap for 2021 and 2022.

The revised CBA will see clubs operate to a $9.02 million cap this season – down from $9.6 million under the original agreement, and $9.11 million in 2022 – dropping from a planned $9.7 million.

With each NRL club saving just under $600,000 a year on salaries over the next two seasons, the savings amount to just under $19 million across player wages.

The six per cent salary sacrifice ensures that each club retains a top 30 NRL squad and at least three development players, avoiding the prospect of fringe first-graders being forced out of NRL deals by the financial impact of COVID-19.

NRL.com understands that the four minimum wage earners – $77,500 – in roster spots 27-30, and players on development contracts worth up to $60,000, won't have their salaries reduced under the new agreement.

Instead representative payments have been shorn in half for the next two Origin campaigns.

Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans.
Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Where NSW and Queensland players were entitled to $30,000 match payments and the Kangaroos earned $20,000 per Test match, those figures have been reduced to $15,000 for Origin and $10,000 for Australian appearances.

With representative players already earning six and sometimes seven-figure salaries, the RLPA pushed for any salary cuts to be felt at the top end of the game rather than by its minimum wage earners.

Origin players already gave up a combined $1.5 million for their involvement in the 2020 series, which saw match payments drop to $10,000 and extended squad members given a $2000 allowance each week.

Queensland and incumbent Australian skipper Daly Cherry-Evans serves as an RLPA director and said there was overwhelming support for the moves among players from both Maroons camp and clubland.

"Generally I don't like to speak for everyone. But across the board it was a common picture that everyone was pretty happy to sacrifice those rep payments because it took you back to why you play rugby league," Cherry-Evans told NRL.com.

"All you ever want to do is play NRL and get those representative opportunities.

"Guys understood that taking those rep pay cuts helps benefit everyone else not just at your club, but across all 16 clubs.

"There's still some very young kids in Origin camp and it's not necessarily for them to worry about.

"But generally when it did come up in conversation in camp most players were across it and understood that us taking a whack helps out teammates at your club.

"You have to tip your cap to the NRL and RLPA because they've worked through so much detail on this and the changes that have been made are aimed at keeping as many jobs in the game and as many players in the game as possible."

NRL players took a 20% pay cut in total for 2020, and a 52% cut for the last five months of the re-started season from May 28.

2020 proved when we do things together, we get a better outcome for everyone

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo

Player benefits and entitlement payments including the retirement and injury hardship funds will also be reduced over the next two seasons.

A review of the player contracting system will also take place in 2021 as previously planned, with a holistic analysis that takes in the possibility of trade periods and changing roster cut-off dates among other ideas to be considered.

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo thanked the players for their commitment to rugby league's long-term survival after the pandemic led to widespread cuts to NRL operations and renegotiated broadcast deals.

"2020 proved when we do things together, we get a better outcome for everyone. Today is another example of that," Abdo said.

"I want to thank the players for the professionalism, discipline and sacrifices they have made – not only to ensure the 2020 season proceeded but so the game can remain sustainable long term.

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo.
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo. ©NRL Photos

"I also want to thank [RLPA chief executive] Clint Newton for the leadership he has shown in securing a deal that provides security for his players, the game and our joint stakeholders.

"The deal is a fair reflection of the value the players bring to our game and the sacrifices they are prepared to make to ensure we remain strong in the years ahead."

Newton added: "This revised agreement is another example of the leadership and maturity shown during such a difficult period in our game's history.

"When you consider the finite career of a rugby league player, which is not guaranteed to be longer than their next game, we have an important role in ensuring what we negotiate on their behalf is fair and reasonable."