JUST before 7pm on Thursday, four NRL players stepped out of the headquarters of the NRL to state that they believed they had a deal. A salary cap of about $5.8million next year, changes to the marquee player allowance, improved insurance and a minimum wage of $80,000 are believed to be part of a new collective bargaining agreement, which now just needs the final tick-off from the players before it is struck.
The fact that those four players – Robbie Farah, Clint Newton Michael Crocker and Anthony Quinn – not to mention the chief executive of the Rugby League Players' Association, David Garnsey, have given it their preliminary approval means the new deal is likely to be signed within days.
The RLPA will contact delegates from each NRL club, and, assuming there is no dissension, the players will have a new agreement in place before Christmas, ending months of uncertainty.
"That's what we'll take back to them, and if we can tick off on it ... it's nice timing," Farah said. "I think it was in everybody's best interests to have something in place as quickly as possible, and now we're at a point where . . . we'll take something back to all the players, we'll give them our recommendations, and if we can agree on that, everyone can move forward; the clubs, the players and the NRL. We can all move forward with a bit of certainty."
The players made the minimum wage, retirement fund, and insurance – on top of the salary cap over the course of the five-year broadcast deal – their key issues through the CBA discussions and they believe they made some significant ground on each of the points.
The players had refused to budge on their belief that an $80,000 minimum wage was fair, while their insurances have been beefed up, protecting players in the event of injuries.
It has been suggested that the salary cap for next year will be $5.8million, an increase of $800,000 on what the NRL had initially told clubs to plan for. But at least $400,000 of that cap will be used for marquee player allowances – although the players have been keen to ensure that every player in the 25-man squads would be entitled to those allowances. There will also be fresh entitlements for second-tier players.
Farah had been part of long meetings over the past two days that had accelerated the negotiations significantly. Following Wednesday's fruitful discussions, he returned alongside Newton, Crocker, Quinn as well as Manly captain Jason King, who was forced to leave the meeting early.
"We've tried to look after the players as a whole, right across the board," Newton said. "That's what we've been trying to deliver right through the negotiations.
"Hopefully, everyone across the board will be happy with the outcome ... we wanted our bottom-tier players, our minimum-wage players looked after appropriately. We've certainly come a long way."
Newton said he believed the fact that so many players – including the likes of Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Benji Marshall and Jarryd Hayne – had attended the negotiations in recent weeks made it clear to NRL officials "how serious we were with this negotiation".
Interim NRL boss Shane Mattiske added: "I've got to give them credit; the players that were here [on Thursday] and the players that have been involved in the whole process have acted professionally. We believe we've arrived at a fair outcome. There was certainly compromise across the board on both sides."
With Garnsey having commenced Thursday's talks with NRL officials in the morning, the players had arrived en masse early in the afternoon to add their clout. With the talks dragging on until after the front doors of Rugby League Central were locked by security, it became clear that significant progress had been made.
"If we can get approval from the members, effectively, it will take effect straightaway," Garnsey said.