WARATAHS coach Michael Cheika has called for an end to Australia’s cumbersome two-pronged player contracting system.
Faced with 21 of his 35-man squad coming off contract at the end of this year, many of whom are Wallabies, Cheika said the system was a nightmare to work within.
”We make it more difficult for ourselves by having the two components,” he said at the Super Rugby season launch in Melbourne on Wednesday. ”It’s not great, in a competitive environment, having it split like that. It should be one negotiation, [the franchises and the ARU] should be working together in one negotiation because our goals should be the same.”
In Australia a Super Rugby side signs a player for a certain amount before the ARU agrees to a ”top-up” payment in the case of players wanted for Wallabies duties. It can create uncertainty when a club offers what it believes it can to keep a player but the ARU’s valuation either does not make the deal competitive enough against another team’s or is at odds with the club’s assessment.
Recent examples were Test halfback Will Genia, who agreed to terms with the Force before a last-ditch bid by the Reds kept him in Queensland, and five-eighth Quade Cooper. The Reds signed Cooper on a three-year deal but dissatisfaction with the ARU component on Cooper’s part led to a months-long stalemate that escalated into a full-blown and costly public meltdown.
In the case of the Waratahs, Cheika faces a triple threat this year. Under the limitations of a salary cap, he has to balance players such as Berrick Barnes, Sitaleki Timani and Wycliff Palu – who have signalled their intent to play overseas – several long-time Wallabies he hopes to retain, plus a handful of players who stepped into the Test arena for the first time last year and will be looking for improved deals and ARU top-ups.
”What I have to do, especially with the players who are on top-ups with the ARU, is make the place as difficult as possible to leave,” he said.
”Obviously we do our best from the financial side and we hope the ARU values the player as much as we do. That’s what it comes down to.”
The situation is much the same for the other provinces, although they have fewer Wallabies to factor in.
In New Zealand, the NZRU centrally contracts all players then tops them up if they make national teams.
Last year’s Arbib review found Australia’s federated structure had worsened the divide between Super Rugby teams and the ARU, but ARU chairman Michael Hawker backed ”central organisation but local delivery” as the best model.
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