Canberra Raiders prop David Shillington says the clout the Rugby League Players' Association has long craved is set for its first big test on Friday when the players ramp up their pay-rise demands.
Shillington, the Raiders' RLPA representative, said he was ''shocked'' by the NRL's proposal last week to increase the salary cap just $200,000 to $5.2 million for next year. The RLPA has been dismissed in some quarters as a toothless tiger for some time, but Shillington said the players were refusing to be dictated to this time.
Shillington will be one of a handful of senior players who will meet the ARL Commission in Sydney on Friday. The players are demanding their wages are on par with the country's other codes, and want low-paid players and injured stars better looked after.
They are pushing for next year's salary cap to be $6.5 million, remuneration they believe is fair thanks to the game's new $1 billion media-rights deals.
''I was shocked they didn't deliver a more generous proposal, hopefully that's resolved this week and things become closer to what the players association wants it to be,'' Shillington said.
''This is the first real test in terms of how strong the RLPA's negotiating strength is. I think players are too switched on about what's going on, and direct in what they think is a fair deal, they won't let this slip by and not be a strong force in these negotiations.
''I think the NRL understands the whole playing group is behind the RLPA these days, which is what we want.
''Sometimes it's been treated like [RLPA boss] David Garnsey going into bat for us and getting a few [concessions].
''The game's finally in a fantastic position of power where it can move forward, build for the future and reward players, and they didn't want to come to the party still.''
Shillington said the players had no choice but to draw a line in the sand now before their discontent snowballs out of control.
''Even the proposed increments [staggered salary-cap increase], they're not even where we want to be in 2017, let alone 2013,'' Shillington said.
''The players are getting frustrated at not understanding why we can't be on par with the rest of the competing codes.''
The players want the minimum increased from $55,000 to $80,000 and more protection for players who suffer career-ending injuries.
''There is an argument the national average wage is similar, but the thing with footy is you have to take into account the risk factor,'' Shillington said.
''We're pushing for a bit more [income] security in contracts, someone like Simon Dwyer had a substantial three-year deal at the Tigers and when he did some vertebrae was only entitled to a fraction of the salary he was going to get.
''If people get injured in a standard thing in the workplace, then they should be taken care of a lot better than the current agreement.''