NRL head coaches will cop a pay cut; assistant coaches will be sacked; strength and conditioning staff numbers will be trimmed and lavish overseas pre-season camps will end.
That’s the prognosis if a projected cap on the spending of the football departments of NRL clubs is introduced.
While all NRL clubs knew a ceiling on football department spending was inevitable, most assumed the cap would be set at the average of the top three spending clubs.
In 2016, those clubs were the Raiders ($8.3 million), Eels ($7.9 million) and Bulldogs ($7.8 million).
This is the money spent on running a club’s football department and does not include the salaries of players.
Alarmed at an increase of $6 million in this spending across the NRL’s 16 clubs from 2015 to 2016, the governing body has told clubs the cap will be set at the level of spending of the sixth highet club. Over-spending clubs will be given two to three years to budget down to this level.
Based on 2016 figures, the next three highest spending clubs – the Broncos, Roosters and Panthers – recorded the same expenditure of $7.4 million.
The actual average of the 16 clubs was $6.3 million, up from $5.9 million the previous year, a 7 per cent increase.
Assuming all clubs maintain their positions on the football department spending ladder in 2017, the Raiders, Eels and Bulldogs will have to shed staff, or cut salaries, or curtail other costs, while the Roosters, Panthers and Broncos will have to stabilise spending.
Coaches accuse the NRL of blindly following the AFL, which introduced a cap on football department spending three years ago. The AFL also imposed a tax on clubs that exceed the cap.
NRL club executives attended a presentation by Swans boss Andrew Ireland where he spoke positively about the cap acting as a brake on an arms race between clubs.
After all, if clubs are forced to operate under a strictly enforced salary cap and there are only two or three NRL head coaches who can attract players to clubs, what other ways are there to woo players?
Players will always be tempted to sign with a club capable of winning a premiership, but a first-class centre of excellence with a gym and indoor pool, sophisticated video equipment and comfortable lounges and dining facilities is an obvious winner.
Indications are the NRL does not want to impose a brake on spending on facilities, equipment and camps. It’s the salaries of assistant coaches that have caused most concern.
An assistant coach on $400,000 would not receive equivalent money in any other profession, given that, say, a PE teacher, would earn about $70,000 or $80,000.
There are a few former head coaches, including Jason Taylor, John Cartwright and David Furner, who are now assistants at other clubs, adding to the inflationary pressure on salaries.
The NRL expects the salaries of many assistants won’t be renewed at the same level they were previously. Some argue that head coaches deserve to be highly paid, given the scrutiny and responsibility they undertake. But the massive salary paid to Wayne Bennett by former Newcastle owner Nathan Tinkler set a benchmark for other top coaches whose contracts have been renewed since.
NRL documents indicate there is no correlation between football department spending and on-field success. The past three premiers have all ranked outside of the top eight in terms of total football spend: South Sydney ($5.4 million), the North Queensland Cowboys ($5.1 million in 2015) and Cronulla ($4.5 million).
Of the top eight spending clubs in 2016, five made the finals, while the other three finalists – the Cowboys, Sharks and Titans – were ranked 11th, 15th and 16th respectively.
The Titans are the lowest spenders on their football department in the NRL, outlaying only $3.9m last year, less than half the Raiders spend.
Football department spending will be a very busy agenda item in coming months at NRL meetings, with high-spending clubs seeking to set it at the level of the average of the top three.
They will argue that the pursuit of excellence on the field requires heavy investment in resources.
Low-spending clubs will seek to drive the cap down to the average, rendering the big spenders less competitive.
Given that six of the NRL clubs are privately owned, there will be some intriguing clashes between owners and coaches.
Owners will lobby for a cut in football department spending in order to lessen their losses, while coaches will argue that sustained success, such as the Storm’s on-field record, is dependent on an annual investment of $7 million.