RLPA demand NRL address welfare

The Rugby League Players’ Association (RLPA) has demanded NRL power brokers urgently address player welfare issues after Johnathan Thurston threatened to boycott the Dally M Awards over the debate.

RLPA president Clint Newton said they had become frustrated with the NRL’s response to an ongoing collective bargaining agreement review which began in March.

The main topics in dispute are reportedly abolishing the five-day turnaround between games, increasing off-season annual leave from six to eight weeks and contributing more to retirement funds and education welfare costs.

“Our role is to defend player rights and protect player welfare and feedback from the playing group has revealed player wellbeing as a priority concern,” Newton said.

“We’re disappointed that, whilst publicly stating they have a shared commitment to player wellbeing, the NRL response is not meeting our expectations.”

Thurston confirmed speculation that players would consider boycotting NRL finals promotions including the grand final breakfast and the Dally M awards over the dispute.

Players boycotted the 2003 Dally M awards.

Asked if he would boycott the Dally Ms, the star North Queensland halfback told Triple M Radio on Thursday: “Yeah, I was one of the boys who actually raised that…I’ve got no worries in raising that.

“Biggest concern is with the player welfare and the retirement fund.

“Now is the time that we believe to stand up and abolish the five-day turnaround.”

Thurston is favourite to win a record fourth Dally M medal this year.

Test and Melbourne captain Cameron Smith hinted at the players’ frustration after their last round 15-8 win over Brisbane – the Storm’s third game in 10 days ahead of their finals campaign.

He claimed after the match that the RLPA would lobby the NRL “quite strongly” in a bid to avoid five-day turnarounds in next year’s draw

While the five-year collective bargaining agreement between the RLPA and the NRL doesn’t expire until 2017, there is a provision for them to review the game’s profitability and whether payments or allowances can be increased.

A Fairfax report on Thursday said the NRL had told the RLPA that spending on the game had also increased and pointed to a predicted $40 million in losses by clubs this season as evidence of why they couldn’t accommodate their demands.

“We’ve been negotiating for months in good faith in the spirit of the agreement,” Newton said.

“But the NRL remains reluctant to acknowledge that players deserve to have their fair share keep pace with increases in game revenue.

“As the demands on players have increased so too have the needs of players.

“We have to make sure we’re putting enough resources into meeting those needs and helping players balance their football lives with family time, safeguarding physical and emotional health, education and post career planning.”

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