Strike threat looms as players boycott NRL promotions over CBA stalemate

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Well, this doesn’t sound good.

Just 44 sleeps before the start of the 2023 NRL season, the players and clubs are taking a stand against head office dragging their feet on finalising the new collective bargaining agreement.

Boycotts of promotional days have begun this week and Broncos forward Kurt Capewell, who is a member of the RLPA advisory group, could not rule out strike action as a potential option if the NRL can’t strike a deal soon.

The All Stars game in New Zealand next month looms as the first major event under threat but when asked about a player strike on Tuesday, Capewell said “hopefully it doesn’t come to that”.

“(The NRL) have belief if they wait it out long enough we’re just going to have to sign (but) we’re not going to stand here and cop it,” Capewell said. “We’re ready to draw a line in the sand and we’ll make a stand.

“We don’t want it to come to (a player strike) but if the NRL are going to sit on their heels and not budge, who knows where it’s going to go? But I’m sure they’ll be able to see we’re not happy and how connected we are.”

Cronulla Sharks were the first club to make a stand with their players refusing to be interviewed or have their photos taken at a scheduled media opportunity on Monday, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Their local derby rivals made the same call on Tuesday morning, with the Dragons cancelling a scheduled media opportunity already pencilled in for the same day. And it seems the rest of the clubs are ready to follow suit.

The NRL increased total player payments by $980m from the previous CBA, offering $1.347b. There is also a new salary cap of $12.1 million for 2023, which is a 25 per cent increase from the previous year.

And while that sound like a lot of money, it’s not the main focus for the players, according to Melbourne co-captain and RLPA leadership group member Christian Welch.

Christian Welch of the Maroons is attended to by a team trainer

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

“I think with this CBA what gets lost is the non-financial things that we’re really working hard for – agreement rights, having trust in the RLPA being able to use the players’ money how it wants without having to go to the NRL,” Welch told SEN Radio.

“The financials are one thing and a big part of negotiations, but the rest of it, the terms of employment, has been a real struggle.

“We’re not asking for anything too unreasonable. We just want to get on with our jobs and play footy.”

Capewell said the players would remain united.

“It’s the NRL’s strategy to paint a picture of us (as greedy), wave a shiny toy in our face and hope we’re silly enough to run into that CBA,” he said. “There’s still so many parts that are nowhere near (acceptable) and we’re prepared to fight for what we think is fair.

“The CBA controls a lot more than just our salaries; we want a fair revenue share, a genuine seat at the table, and want to be heard. It’s not about the wage, it’s about setting up funding for past players, welfare and tertiary education.

“We didn’t ask for a salary cap without a CBA. We wanted to negotiate and agree to a CBA that includes a salary cap – that’s how all major sports work.

“At the moment we’re not doing the NRL (promotional) stuff … it’s something we’ve all decided to do and hopefully grabs the NRL’s attention and shows we’re not happy. This is the most united the playing group’s ever been.”

The players are standing firm that this means more to them than just dollars.

“This action is being driven by the players,” a senior player said. “The NRL doesn’t understand how unhealthy the relationship is with both the men and women.

“This is not about pay. It’s about the way the NRL have lacked respect in negotiations.”

NRLW players remain in even more limbo, with their season still up in the air because of the drama.

The 10 NRLW sides in the expanded competition have also been given a significant raise in their salary cap to $884,000.

Responding to the boycotts that look certain to affect the NRL official launch, an NRL spokesman said on Monday: “We are aware of some players not participating in today’s club photo sessions with NRL staff.

“We are in ongoing discussions with the RLPA regarding these and other issues and look forward to an exciting 2023 season for our fans.”

The players have tried really hard to not let this affect the fans, but the NRL had shown a lack of respect during the negotiations making the situation difficult.

“The game is for the fans. We love rugby league, we love playing it. We don’t want to disrupt it,” said Welch.

“We’ve seen that throughout the year with State of Origin, finals series, World Cup, there hasn’t been one instance where players have taken away from the game or the fans when, at times, we probably could have where we’ve felt a real lack of respect from the NRL in terms of negotiations.”

Cowboys halfback Chad Townsend has put his support behind the cause, posting on social media “We want a well-funded Past Players Program, better funding for the Injury Hardship Fund, funding for a Medical Support Fund, agreement rights on our employment conditions, match fees outside the cap, and a first-ever CBA for women. Their salary cap announcement doesn’t resolve any of that but it’s their way of hindering our wishes.”

It would be very difficult to prepare for the year ahead in your occupation when all of the paperwork is not in order. This is how the players feel. Seeing as this was meant to be finalised last November, Peter V’landys and Andrew Abdo better get their ducks in a row before there are potential threats of strikes.

Before you start rolling your eyes and saying “You lot get paid a fortune to play footy, just shut up and play!” despite that being incorrect, what is happening here is so much more than that. Not all players are on Jason Taumalolo or Ben Hunt money.

Some are waiting for this to all be sorted so they can lock in their futures, while others just want to know that everyone is getting a fair deal and being looked after.

There is nothing unreasonable in wanting to know everything is sorted when it comes to signing a contract, what you are getting paid is correct and that what you are expecting to get is secure.

Oh yeah, and ensuring you are getting that ‘respect’ thing. My goodness, that is just as important.

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