NRL and players union to review third-party deals after Manly rort

The stakeholders with most to gain from third-party arrangements concede the system requires a radical overhaul after the controversial system was at the centre of another salary cap scandal.

The Rugby League Players Association admit TPAs needs to be reviewed after Manly became the second club busted for rorting the salary cap in as many seasons. The Sea Eagles and two current officials have been issued with breach notices for off-the-book player payments over the past five years. The illegal payments came via third-party payments, the same system Parramatta were caught rorting last year.

While Manly’s cheating wasn’t on the same scale as Parramatta – the Eels overspent to the tune of $3 million over a similar period – the common denominator has been dodgy TPAs.

As part of collective bargaining negotiations, the NRL and the players’ union agreed to review the system.

“What the preliminary [NRL] findings do highlight is the need to review the current third-party agreement system,” the RLPA said in a statement issued on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, this is not the first time that salary cap breaches have been exposed which have a direct link to the negotiation and agreement of third-party arrangements.

“As part of the collective bargaining agreement negotiations, the NRL and RLPA have agreed to undertake a review of the TPA system. Whilst we do not have any fixed views on the system or how it could be improved, we look forward to working with the NRL and other key stakeholders to review the current arrangements.

“We stress that the review is not a direct consequence of the preliminary findings in relation to the Sea Eagles. However, the findings do reinforce the need to discuss improvements to this space.”

An NRL spokesperson added: “As part of the collective bargaining agreement negotiations, the NRL and RLPA have agreed to undertake a review of the TPA system.”

Manly is expected to avoid having competition points deducted from their 2018 campaign, but are facing the prospect of not being able to recruit any further players. The Sea Eagles have about $500,000 left in their salary cap, but those funds will be all but erased once head office takes into account the off-the-book payments made over the past five seasons. Such a ruling will prevent them from bringing Newcastle playmaker Trent Hodkinson back to Brookvale, leaving the club short in the halves after releasing Blake Green to the Warriors.

Integrity issues aside, TPAs were already under fire for creating a disparity between the clubs. While there is an argument that corporate dollars shouldn’t be turned away, it’s evident that some NRL clubs have greater access to TPAs than others. The situation undoes the work of the salary cap, a measure introduced to ensure all 16 teams are on a level playing field.

Several clubs were privately angered at Penrith’s attempts to transfer a third-party deal from Matt Moylan to James Maloney when the players were involved in a player swap with Cronulla. While the NRL refused to register the deal, there is a widespread belief some clubs aren’t operating at the required “arm’s length” approach in such matters.

While some players benefit from TPAs, they are usually limited to the game’s elite and there is a high prevalence of such arrangements falling over, leaving them out of pocket.

During its initial pitch in CBA negotiations, the RLPA attempted to introduce “player marketing contracts”, that would be independent deals brokered at arm’s length from a club and capped at $1 million per club. That initiative was put on the backburner as the parties agreed on a centrally contracted marketing system. However, both parties are prepared to consider similar alternatives to provide a system more equitable and transparent than the TPA system.

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