The NRL’s long-running pay dispute is all but over, with the parties striking an in-principle agreement on Thursday evening pending documentation and ratification from the playing group.
Earlier this week, ARLC chairman Peter V’landys boldly declared that he could broker a deal within “two hours” if both parties returned to the negotiating table in good faith. In the end, an agreement took two days.
After refusing to speak to each other for months, the NRL and the players’ union met on Wednesday and again late on Thursday afternoon. The latter meeting resolved the final outstanding issues, giving the Rugby League Players’ Association the chance to take the offer back to its members for approval. An elusive collective bargaining agreement, one that has been 21 months in the making, appears imminent.
“The Rugby League Player’s Association is pleased to advise that it has reached in-principle agreement with the NRL on an historic collective bargaining agreement,” the NRL and RLPA said in a joint statement.
“Once ratified, this agreement will set rugby league up for the future while ensuring the rights of all NRL and NRLW players - current and future - are protected.
“The in-principle agreement will be presented to the Australian Rugby League Commission and Rugby League Players’ Association for ratification in the coming days. Player-led action for this weekend will be cancelled.
“The RLPA acknowledges the efforts of the NRL to resolve the CBA in recent days, and thanks its members for their resolve in ensuring a fair agreement that benefits the game and all of its stakeholders.”
Only a month ago, furious RLPA officials said head office had made “100 drastic changes” to what they described as a take-it-or-leave-it proposal. The sticking points - the largest of which surrounded the level of autonomy the RLPA has over its own funds - have been resolved. Threats of a Dally M boycott and a player strike appear to have been avoided.
“Apparently the talks went really well and it’s about to be sorted,” Tigers assistant coach Benji Marshall told SENZ in New Zealand on Thursday.
“I’m on both sides of the coin; I’ve been a player and I understand as a player you have to get everything right.
“To be honest with you, the players association acts in the players’ best interests, long term, what is best for them. Financially and whatever [the issue] is, collectively, I’m glad the players are sticking together, that they are standing up for themselves.
“The point it’s gotten to, though, I think it’s probably gone too far. I thought they could have probably been in the room a bit sooner and not had to black out the [NRL] logo and all of that sort of stuff.
“At the same time, it’s a bit of a soap opera, our game, it creates a lot of drama. I thought it could have been done in a better way and done behind closed doors.”
The RLPA was approached for comment.
With the finals only weeks away, the players will return to full media duties. It would be a timely boost, particularly for an NRLW competition that has struggled for column inches at a time when the Matildas have dominated the news cycle.
The resolution was timely: the players were just hours away from ramping up their protests by delaying kick-off times during round 24. Had the latest meeting not led towards a resolution, players were set to disrupt Thursday night’s match between the Sea Eagles and Panthers at 4 Pines Park.
Players were poised to form a huddle on the field, a move that would have made the referee wait before being able to blow time-on for the kick-off. They were also planning to tape over the NRL logo, a tactic previously employed in round 22.