NRL in welfare talks with players’ body

The NRL and the Rugby League Players’ Association (RLPA) have begun formal negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that is expected to dramatically reshape the code.

NRL boss Todd Greenberg and his RLPA counterpart Ian Prendergast have met to launch discussions on the new CBA that will be introduced to rugby league in what promises to be a watershed season in 2018.

The NRL assumes full control of the playing schedule from broadcasters Fox Sports and the Nine Network under the terms of the new TV deal that year in a situation that is certain to have a positive ripple effect across the code.

Prendergast is in the process of meeting the playing groups of all 16 NRL clubs to gauge their wants and expectations over reforms in crucial areas such as welfare, health and safety, governance, integrity and of course the money that will be made available to players.

There remains a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the size of the salary cap for the 2018 season as players and clubs push for more of the money that the game generates, including from its billion-dollar five-year broadcast deal from 2018-22.

On the key issue of player burnout and welfare, the number of five-day turnarounds is expected to be reduced significantly from this season’s 31, when the draw for 2018 is announced at the end of next year.

The NRL integrity unit and the consistency, or otherwise, of punishments its metes out is likely to be another key topic of discussion during negotiations for the new CBA. Some clubs are pushing for matters of NRL integrity to be handled by an independent body.

The relationship between the NRL and RLPA has improved immensely since the game’s governing body did not consult the players’ group before the release of this season’s draw last November, amid claims any concerns of player burnout were being ignored.

After that incident, Greenberg indicated the NRL would take a more-collaborative approach with the RLPA to issues across the game and the opening of negotiations so far out from the conclusion of the current CBA at the end of 2017 is a sign of that.

The RLPA’s standing in the game has gained far-greater prominence since then, due in no small part to the work of Prendergast, who took over the role in December after serving as general manager of the AFL Players’ Association.

The negotiation process for the new CBA is expected to take up to 12 months.

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