Talking RL: 'We need transparency over central payments to England stars'

Phil Wilkinson gives his view on central payments, tough calls, ticket pricing and the best edge in Super League in his latest Talking RL column...

Wednesday, 27th March 2019, 11:55 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th March 2019, 1:03 pm
We don't know which Wigan player has had central payments from the RFL
We don't know which Wigan player has had central payments from the RFL

Last week, a report into Wigan’s appeal against their points deduction was published on the website of Sports Resolutions, the independent body which heard the case.

It was 16-pages long and – if you wade through the legalese, jargon and abbreviations – there are some interesting details about how the Warriors successfully got their two points back.

It raised obvious discussion points, about the process and the punishment, which I’ve previously given my views on.

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But two other issues were mentioned which, by and large, went unnoticed. First, it revealed the Super League clubs are to meet in May to discuss suggested tariffs for breaching the salary cap.

For me, this is long overdue.

The fact Wigan were deducted two points on the eve of the new season, caught me by surprise as being harsh – and the appeal panel agreed.

I’m all for punishing breaches, but punishments that fit the crime; a relatively minor breach of less than one per cent – which nobody suggested was deliberate – seemed out-of-sync with other historical breaches at other clubs.

But the clubs have a chance to end any ambiguity by bringing in punishment guidelines.

Wouldn’t it be simpler if, like rugby union, there was a structure in place that ruled if you broke the cap by, say, £20,000, you would be fined double the amount (£40,000)?

Some would argue a fine alone wouldn’t detract the big-spending clubs so, at a certain point, we could have a points deduction, too.

And increases for those who are recent, repeat or deliberate offenders. The second issue raised from the appeal hearing was the central payments the RFL make to a select pool of players.

In short, although Wigan were successful in reducing the punishment for breaking the cap – they were handed their points back – they earlier failed in a bid to have the case dismissed.

They argued, unsuccessfully, that payments made by the RFL to one of their star players shouldn’t have counted towards the 2017 cap.

You may remember, the scheme was created under Nigel Wood’s watch, in which a few England players had their salaries ‘topped up’ by money from the RFL for “ambassadorial services”.

The idea was well-intended; to keep them in Super League and away from the NRL. But it raises some interesting questions.

How many players get the payments? At which clubs?

And crucially, who decides who gets them – and why? We don’t even know which Wigan player received the cash – his name was redacted from the report.

As I say, the idea isn’t bad, but the way it is handled lacks transparency.

Maybe it’s something the clubs can discuss when they meet in May to discuss the salary cap punishments?

Featherstone’s Australian hooker Cameron King is reportedly “considering his options” after being offered a deal by Sydney Roosters.

Featherstone and the Championship, or the Roosters in the NRL.

Tough call.

England don’t play this year – instead, it’s a reformed Great Britain – but they've named an England elite training squad.

It's great to see four Warriors included as well as five – including Joe Bullock – in the Knights squad, too. And I’ll make a prediction... by the end of the year, Joe Burgess will be back in the mix as well.

He looked sharp and quick in his comeback game following 11-months out with a knee injury. It was great to see him back.

I was surprised when a Wigan fan told me it had cost £27 to watch the game at Salford on Sunday.

So I looked into pricing for away fans at Super League clubs, and found it wasn’t uncommon, with match-day tickets generally in the £23 to £27 bracket (credit to Catalans – under £19!).

What needs to be considered is what the fan is paying for; seating or standing, good view, good facilities, quality match?

But spare a thought for the fans who went to watch Leigh’s Championship match at Bradford – and were charged £30 for a seat!

During a poor run of form, perspective can easily get lost.

Before last Sunday’s game I took issue with someone who questioned the quality in the Wigan team. His argument was, basically, that their results and league position was a fair reflection.

That the players just aren’t good enough.

I disagreed, pointing out many were in the squad which won a title last year, a World Club the year before, and that Wigan have been punching below weight.

To make my case, I asked him to go through each position and ask whether – on their day – that player is top-five in Super League.

So he did.

Hardaker? Yes. Burgess, on the left wing? Yes. Manfredi on the right? Check. And on it went.

Wigan have some quality players and, as the performance at Salford showed, they have particular strength on their left edge.

Getting the two points was the main positive on Sunday, but it was pleasing to see the style in which they did it. Adrian Lam thinks the Burgess-Gildart-Greenwood-Williams combination could become the best in Super League.

I find it hard to disagree.