Ever since a certain doctor burst onto the Super League scene the question of whether the salary cap should be reconsidered has been brought into the spotlight with the millionaire Salford owner wanting the freedom to spend as much of his own money as he wants.
This is of course Dr Marwan Koukash who’s view is to scrap the cap altogether so he can try his best to entice the likes of Billy Slater and Sonny Bill Williams to the rather less extravagant climate of Salford.
Australia have a salary cap much greater than that of the Super League and whilst this is the case we can only dream of such greats gracing our competition, yet is it realistic that we could even without a cap? Can you imagine Greg Inglis turning up to train in wet and cold conditions most of the year? Can you imagine some of the best players in the world turning up at grounds like Barrow or Batley for a Challenge Cup clash?
Fortunately we got to see some of these stars play in the cold and damp English winter during the World Cup and they seemed pretty content, with the exception of a terrible night at Langtree Park where Australia faced Fiji in horrendous conditions. Surely the weather can’t put off elite athletes right?
It can be argued both ways but what is for certain is that if we don’t at least try then we certainly won’t see the best stars in the sport playing in our own back yard. Australia’s buying power has pried away some of our greatest talents in the Burgess brothers (all four of them!), James Graham and most recently Sam Tomkins who was Super Leagues most exciting and now most expensive player. If we continue to sit back and let the Aussies do this then we will have no star players left in a sport which is visibly struggling to reach out to large audiences in this country.
Of course all of these players who have made the switch will insist money played no part but if they had been offered more to stay in Super League then the players would have gave it much more thought.
To completely rid the salary cap would be a ridiculous decision considering the current state the game is in financially and in terms of its popularity. There is simply not enough money in the game at the moment for teams to remain sustainable whilst spending similar amounts to the Australian giants. One doctor will not change that and until we have a dozen owners with his ambition and spending power it will just not be possible to survive without a salary cap.
The sport of Rugby League in England needs those wealthy owners and the only way they can be attracted to the sport is if the RFL starts to market and sell the competition more effectively. It is in desperate need of a big money sponsor with betting companies being an ideal candidate to plough money into the competition. If the game was televised more frequently then buyers will see it as a more marketable sport in which they can gain access to relatively cheap, compared to football, and make a lot of money back. Every single game of NRL is televised on Premier Sports so why can’t the same be done with Super League? The BBC and ITV should have access to Super League games so new viewers are being introduced all the time and hopefully with the current rise of BT Sport we could see games televised on their channel.
Our competition needs those big names to flock over to our shores in order to survive and improve to a standard which can compete with the NRL. The World Cup proved that if the big names are here people will get out of their armchairs and get to stadiums to see them. That was apparent for all to see when a sold out Halliwell Jones watched one of the best games of the competition when Samoa pushed New Zealand close. The majority of the crowd that day, including myself, were there to see one man and one man only, Sonny Bill Williams.
To put that game into perspective of the Super League, Samoa would be a lowly ranked side and New Zealand would be the team at the top. We have seen over the years that these types of clashes don’t get the biggest of attendances yet throw an SBW in there and you never know what could happen.
Getting rid of the salary cap may not be the current solution but it could be one in the future when the game is more financially powerful. To bring these names in now to make the game more marketable and appealing the Super League must allow marquee signings to be made. If all teams had two signings which were exempt from the cap we could maybe one day see the return of a Burgess brother. The teams who simply don’t have the money to buy players like this could place their two highest earners as the marquee signings and free up a substantial amount of money to bring in more players, thus improving their squad and the competitiveness of the Super League. Imagine if instead of laughing off Dr Koukash as a lunatic for thinking he could buy Sonny Bill Williams, we all got excited about the possibility of having him in our competition.
Whether the RFL do anything about the gulf between the NRL and Super League is a different matter and the longer they ignore the need to bring in the world’s best players the bleaker the future becomes for rugby league in England.