Careers in the balance as NRL stars head back to work
Sydney Roosters lock Victor Radley is back on the tools as a carpenter, Canberra's Elliott Whitehead is driving a tractor, John Bateman is on the site and his superstar teammate and reigning Clive Churchill Medal winner Jack Wighton is looking for work.
Meet the NRL players - all three of whom played in last year's grand final - swapping their privileged lives as professional footy players for jobs at the coalface to support themselves and their local communities during the coronavirus crisis.
One of the game's highest paid players - Wighton - is keen to pick up a job during the NRL competition shutdown.
Wighton posted a video on Instagram, saying: "Anyone looking for workers . . . serious people only please".
Fellow Raiders Whitehead and John Bateman also took to Instagram.
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First ever day grafting,I’m done with it!! Give me rugby back please 😫🤦🏽♂️ pic.twitter.com/McMgOlTyRQ— John Bateman (@johnbateman1) March 31, 2020
Whitehead posted two pictures of his new King Gee work boots and socks, attached with the caption: "Been a while but back at it tomorrow."
Roosters star Radley, who worked for his dad as a carpenter for three years after leaving school, is back swinging a hammer with his old man.
While Penrith forward Kaide Ellis is another player contemplating a temporary career change until the NRL competition returns.
Ellis doesn't know what tomorrow, let alone next week or next month will bring.
Off-contract and not on big dollars compared to the game's biggest stars, he is genuinely worried about his future.
He was playing in the reserve grade ranks prior to the NRL competition shutdown.
The Dubbo-born Ellis is weighing up starting another job depending on how long the NRL is postponed due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
"At this stage I'm not working because we haven't taken pay cuts just yet. I have thrown the word out back home if there is any work but more just to keep me busy and help out," Ellis said.
Penrith have told all players, including Ellis, that they are on leave for eight weeks while they will be contacted regarding a training program moving forward.
"I'm really worried about is not being able to play and push for another contract for next year," Ellis said.
"And I think the stress of all the unknowns around the season moving forward is pretty scary too."
Ellis isn't the only player that is unsure about his future.
Every NRL club has players in its top 30 on minimum or lower wages compared to the top end stars.
The NRL's minimum wage is $75,000, meaning those players would struggle to live if they took a major cut to their wage.
It leaves hundreds of players in a precarious position moving forward.
Player manager Steve Gillis has a host of players on minimum wage or just starting out their rugby league careers.
Gillis is trying to convey a message of calm to his clients during this unprecedented and challenging period.
"We are concerned for all the players, but particularly the young players starting out are on less money than others," Gillis said.
"But everything is up in the air, so I don't do hypotheticals with the players.
"We have to tackle things as they come up, so it is best just to be patient and hang in there and we will get through it."
FRINGE PLAYERS FIGHTING FOR THEIR FUTURE
Kaide Ellis (Penrith)
Jack Cogger (Bulldogs)
Mason Lino (Knights)
Cameron King (Sharks)
Corey Waddell (Sea Eagles)
Matt Frawley (Raiders)
Tom Starling (Raiders)
Jamil Hopoate (Broncos)
Joe Stimson (Bulldogs)
Will Kennedy (Sharks)
Albert Hopoate (Sea Eagles)
Josh Kerr (Dragons)
Originally published as Careers in the balance as NRL stars head back to work