Sam Burgess, Matt Gillett and Ben Matulino have all retired in the past week.
Sam Burgess, Matt Gillett and Ben Matulino have all retired in the past week.

NRL’s richest clubs exploit salary cap loophole

The NRL's medical retirement rules have become a sham and nothing but a salary cap loophole for the wealthier clubs.

This was always going to be a problem once the NRL allowed Greg Inglis to retire last year and be taken out of the salary cap.

The Rabbitohs had signed Inglis on a long-term contract to keep him out of reach of rival clubs. They knew he was getting to an age where it was a risk but they still chose to take him off the market.

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Last week we had three more cases - Sam Burgess at Souths, Ben Matulino at the Wests Tigers and Matt Gillett at the Brisbane Broncos.

We are not saying these are not genuine cases. That's for the NRL to work out.

But let's use a player like Kiwi Test front-rower Jared Waerea-Hargreaves as an example to show how easy it could be to rort the system.

He is 30 years of age and off contract at the end of next year. A number of clubs would love to sign the enforcer from the side that has won back-to-back premierships.

But like Inglis, Burgess and other older players, there are risks.

Obviously it's in Trent Robinson's and Nick Politis's best interests to take him off the market.

So they sign him for five years, knowing at most he'll play another three. Like Inglis, he'll have a busted body and will be medically retired.

The problem we have is that not all clubs can afford to do what the Roosters can and pay him out a couple of million. It's a round of drinks for them.

The Rabbitohs are privately owned by Russell Crowe and James Packer and can afford it too. Same with the Broncos, the wealthiest club in the game.

The NRL knows this is potentially a major problem.

It's why they are saying an investigation into the Burgess case will not be completed until next month. They want to study all the surgery and physio records.

They want to interview medical experts to determine if there were other options that could have allowed him to continue playing.


It is in the best interests of the Roosters to take Jared Waerea-Hargreaves off the market. Picture: AAP
It is in the best interests of the Roosters to take Jared Waerea-Hargreaves off the market. Picture: AAP


It took five weeks for the Broncos to get approval from the NRL for Gillett's retirement and release from the salary cap.

The NRL have rejected claims before. In 2017 Manly had to keep Brett Stewart in the salary cap despite a career ending knee injury. The same with Anthony Watmough at Parramatta.

Yet now the floodgates have opened and it is a problem for the game that is not going away.

Your columnist was laughed at and labelled soft for posing the question earlier this year: "Is rugby league getting too tough?"

Bigger, stronger, faster more powerful athletes are clashing and colliding with the most brutal force.

In most positions players are 25 kilos heavier than 30 years ago.

Even old super coach Wayne Bennett now recognises the problems with the increasing number of shoulder injuries.

"A lot of players are having multiple operations on their shoulder," Bennett said.

"It's something we need to look at and why this type of injury is happening and finishing guys' careers a lot earlier than we all thought they would."



Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett. Picture: Getty Images
Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett. Picture: Getty Images


Poor Kieran Foran did his shoulder again on the weekend. Will the Bulldogs try to medically retire him? Give him a job after footy. This would free up $1 million to get Latrell Mitchell straight away.

So the ball is now in the NRL's court. There is a perception in the game that Todd Greenberg has a soft spot for the Rabbitohs.

The Greg Inglis reference in court for drink driving a speeding. Sam Burgess escaping punishment despite slamming the judiciary etc, etc.

All the fans want is consistency. Every club and every player to be treated the same, which hasn't been the case in the past.