"We have framed this year as a year of getting smarter" ... ARL Commission chairman John Grant. Photo: Tamara Dean
ARL Commission chairman John Grant has indicated that the appointment of a new chief executive may not be far away but, five months after David Gallop's resignation, it is no longer the most pressing issue in the game.
As Grant and interim chief executive Shane Mattiske revealed a strategic plan for the next five years and a new logo at League Central yesterday, it was evident how many other issues in the game remain unresolved.
What is happening with the radio rights, Mattiske was asked.
What about negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement with the players?
How much will the salary cap be over the next five seasons?
Or the annual grant to NRL clubs?
Who will be the naming rights sponsor for the NRL premiership?
And then there is the internet rights, mobile rights and New Zealand television rights.
Throw into the mix the outcomes of reviews into the shoulder charge, second-tier competitions and refereeing, which also does not have anyone in charge after the sacking of Bill Harrigan and Stuart Raper last Friday.
Fortunately, the answer to most questions was that an announcement was ''close'', with Grant and Mattiske even giving a commitment that clubs would know the size of their funding grant for next season before November 1.
The salary cap has already been set at $5 million for next season but that has to be agreed to by the players and a meeting today will give an indication of what else they will want from the new $1.025 billion television deal.
However, it is expected the Rugby League Players' Association and the ARLC will do a deal for next season only and negotiate a four-year collective bargaining agreement in 2013.
The problem with that is players coming off contract at the end of next season are free to negotiate with rival clubs from Thursday but they are unable to decide their future without knowing what the salary cap will be between 2014 and 2017.
Additional income from radio rights, online and mobile rights, naming rights and New Zealand television rights may even have a bearing on the size of the salary cap and grant to clubs in future years.
With the new broadcast deal having been finalised on August 21, some within the game argue the ARLC has roughly known for more than two months the amount of money flowing into the game and should have been able to set the grant and cap for five years.
However, Grant made no apologies for the pace at which decisions had been made after the eight commissioners on the ARLC took over the running of the game on February 10.
''We have framed this year as a year of getting smarter,'' Grant said. ''When we came into this, there was not a lot of information with which to make decisions, so this was the year to get all of our information into place.''
After missing out on AFL deputy Gillon McLachlan, who rejected an offer from the ARLC in early September, Grant said no decision on the chief executive would be made unless the right candidate was found.
Among the announcements made yesterday was confirmation expansion was off the agenda until after the 2014 season, when a full review would be conducted, leading to suggestions the AFL had been given the green light to swoop into potentially lucrative regions.
''If you tell the enemy that we're not going to invest in here in a strategic sense for the next four or five years, I think you're saying the AFL can come in and be more aggressive,'' Central Queensland chief executive Denis Keeffe said.
Set of six: the big issues
One of the objectives stated is for the game to ''attract and retain the best athletes'' and ARL Commission chairman John Grant declared that Sonny Bill Williams fits into that category. But despite Williams's drawing power being such that Sydney Roosters have been drafted to host South Sydney in the opening game of the season, Grant would not guarantee that the returning superstar's contract will be registered. ''Sonny Bill Williams is a great footballer so we would like to see him in our code but we have a process that that has to happen by and that is a process that applies to everyone, and we are waiting for the Roosters to come and talk to us if that is going to happen,'' he said.
Bid teams are encouraged to enter teams or develop relationships with existing clubs in lower tiers before a full review in two years into whether additional sides should be admitted to the premiership, and if so when and where. The Central Queensland bid has already announced a merger with the CQ Capras, who play in the Queensland Cup, and the WA Pirates have entered an under-18s team in next year's SG Ball competition. ''We would like to work with them to find a way that they can stay connected to the game whether that is through a state league team or through a junior team or a junior club,'' Grant said.
The days of every club getting the same annual grant to spend however they see fit are over, with Grant and interim ARLC CEO Shane Mattiske outlining plans for a ''performance-based funding model''. Criteria will be set - requiring Cronulla, for example, to employ a chief executive, and clubs will be able to apply for additional grants from a $200 million growth fund for investment in projects that drive growth. ''We will establish a clear set of goals for the clubs to achieve that will see distributions in 2014 and beyond becoming less fixed and more variable as determined by need and performance,'' Grant said.
More than 400 development officers previously employed by ARL Development, the NSWRL, QRL, CRL and NRL clubs will come under the control of a single body on November 1. NRL will become the brand and there are variations of the new logo for the NRL premiership, Toyota Cup, NSWRL, QRL, other state bodies, the CRL and the Warriors, who will have a black and white version on their jersey. ''To see development officers with one logo and then see us running around in first grade with the same logo unites us all,'' NSW skipper Paul Gallen said.
5. Player behaviour
A line in the sand has officially been drawn on player behaviour and that will be formalised in a new code of conduct expected to outline responsibilities and set out penalties for officials and coaching staff, as well as players. ''The obligation is there because that is the reality,'' Grant said. ''We are viewed as role models and we need to be role models, and that is going to be the guidelines that we as individuals in the game and the administration need to take on board.''
6. The fans
Targets have been set for the average attendances to increase to 20,000 and total club membership numbers to pass 400,000 by 2017. One of the keys to achieving those goals will be a stadium policy that ensures matches are played at venues which ensure they will draw the biggest crowds. Clubs need to provide a better game-day experience for fans and engage directly with them through social media. ''Fans are looking to go beyond just simply reading about or watching their players and teams on television, they want the chance to connect more deeply,'' Mattiske said.