Michael Hooper will hand back a massive chunk of his $1.2 million-per year contract. Picture: AAP
Michael Hooper will hand back a massive chunk of his $1.2 million-per year contract. Picture: AAP

Players trade pay for greater powers

RUGBY'S players' union has won a formal role in shaking up the code's competition designs in return for a pay cut deal that will save cash-strapped Rugby Australia $13.3 million.

Average pay cuts of 60 per cent for six months for the country's 192 contracted players were not the only thing at stake during the wrangling of the past three weeks before Monday's agreement between Rugby Australia and the Rugby Union Players' Association.

RA ceded ground so that "RUPA and the Member Unions will be included in key discussions regarding rugby's future structure, competition design and scheduling."

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It's a position that RUPA has long fought for, especially with the relevance of RA deciding to axe the Western Force from Super Rugby in 2017.

More than that, it gives RUPA a louder force in potentially re-imagining what Super Rugby will look like next year and any competition format possible this year.

In addition, up to six players have negotiated the chance to explore an overseas club opportunity for one period of six months, within the years 2021-23.

Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper is expected to be one because he takes the biggest pay hit of all, more than $600,000 for this six months from Australia's biggest contract of $1.2 million per year.

He would not be paid by RA or his Super Rugby team during the season offshore.

Even the massive pay cuts for top earners like Hooper, Kurtley Beale, Matt Toomua, Dane Haylett-Petty and Taniela Tupou are just a Band-Aid to stem rugby's short-term financial pain because the code requires major surgery.

Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle praised the players in helping strike the deal. Picture: Getty Images
Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle praised the players in helping strike the deal. Picture: Getty Images

RUPA boss Justin Harrison put that in blunt terms last night when he said "the long-term sustainability of the game" was even more important than the immediate crisis.

"Australia's professional players will play a central role in the short - term preservation of the game by accepting a significant reduction in pay in order for necessary transformation to begin," Harrison said.

"Immediate attention must now turn to the long-term sustainability of the game (and) this process has enabled a greater understanding of the need for root-and-branch reform."

Settling the pay cut deal until September 30 now also means RA can secure a loan lifeline of around $16 million from World Rugby's COVID-19 relief fund.

RA had faced a wages bill of $15.9 million for players over the next six months but with the pay cuts and JobKeeper payments from the government pocket that will reduce to $2.6 million.

Now the deal is done, Reds captain Liam Wright has turned his attention to getting back on the park. Picture: AAP
Now the deal is done, Reds captain Liam Wright has turned his attention to getting back on the park. Picture: AAP

RA said the agreement would lead to "an 80 per cent overall reduction in costs across the business" when coupled with the standing down of more than 100 staff on March 31.

"The players recognise and appreciate their role and shared responsibility in securing the future and helping us navigate through this difficult time and I want to thank them, on behalf of the game, for their willingness to work with us to reach an interim solution that will help us protect the long-term future of rugby in Australia," RA chief executive Raelene Castle said.

"This has not been an easy discussion, but it has been a necessary one to ensure that we are able to emerge from the other side of this crisis in the best possible position."

If competition resumes before September 30, terms will be renegotiated.

"It's good to finalise the financial arrangements for the players and give the game certainty for the next six months," Reds captain Liam Wright said.

"Everyone involved in rugby in Queensland has been doing it hard since this pandemic started and the players understand their responsibility to bear some financial pain to preserve the state of the game.

"We've continued to train in isolation and we can't wait to play rugby again."


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