The Cumberland Throw

The Spotlight – Protect The Product

“At our core, we are a football club and so we continue to be totally committed to providing our fans and partners with a successful NRL Rugby League team.” Bernie Gurr

The parting words of former Eels CEO Bernie Gurr ring true in these times more than ever. The NRL and each of the 16 clubs are in the business of rugby league, and whatever decisions are made must be done without losing sight of the game itself.

Facing an unclear future, when so much attention is rightly focussed on the economic challenges facing the NRL, it behoves the decision makers to ensure that they don’t miss seeing the wood for the trees.

The strength of the NRL is the quality of the product it sells – professional rugby league. The players that take the field possess an extraordinary mix of athleticism, skill and toughness, with the majority participating in the game since childhood.

The product would not exist without the foundations of junior football, and the ongoing development, coaching, physical preparation and player well-being programs.

Perhaps you can already read where this post is going.

When it comes to cost cutting, the NRL and the 16 clubs need to be careful that they do not diminish the product.

We already know that the players have accepted significant pay cuts for this year, and a reduced salary cap in future years is likely on the discussion agenda. How that transpires will be a matter for negotiation between the NRL and the Players Association.

Whether an edict is passed placing greater restrictions on football department spending by the NRL, or whether individual clubs cut their own expenses, we are facing the inevitable tightening of the belt.

But this is an area where we need to tread carefully.

Last year, Eels Chairman Sean McElduff was quoted as saying:

Sean McElduff

“The core business of the club is winning football games. Of course we want to win premierships but for us it’s about putting the right building blocks in place like well-being, roster management, that we know at the start of every year we are a chance of making the top four.”

This statement would be typical of most clubs.

Professional Rugby League has prospered as a spectacle because the coaching, support and care for the players has evolved. Decisions have been made, and staff have been appointed, with elite preparation and the physical and mental well-being of the players being the motivation.

We could consider NRL executives as paragons of altruism for such decisions and spending, but there is a commercial intelligence behind looking after the overall well-being of players.

Time on the sideline, for whatever reason, is wasted money. Furthermore, when it involves prominent NRL players, it diminishes the quality and appeal of the game.

Individual clubs strive for an edge when it comes to their support staff and coaching programs. Strong rosters are built by astute recruitment and quality development. Successful teams are usually those who are the least impacted by injury, especially during the second half of the season.

Training and preparation go hand in hand with “prehabilitation” – doing what can be done to prevent injuries from occurring or recurring. Should injury strike, the best medical and rehabilitation treatments are crucial in reducing time on the sideline.

In 2019, it was no coincidence that the Eels benefitted from their programs when both the NRL and Canterbury Cup teams reached the finals series. By the second week of the NRL finals, Will Smith was the only player unavailable through injury- and that was a fracture. With virtually all of the top squad available, improved results across both grades were achieved.

Of course, NRL programs run far deeper than just the well-being of elite players.

Interim CEO, Andrew Abdo

Before Peter V’Landys or Andrew Abdo lead any decisions about future cost cutting, the code already has a hurdle to overcome that could impact the product. The loss of NSWRL and QRL programs for this season means that pathways programs, from development squads through to State Cups, have been shut down. The return of community football will not involve these elite programs.

Unless they return to community level football, including Ron Massey and Sydney Shield, these players will lose a season of their development. Even if they play at this level, they won’t receive the quality coaching, physical preparation and mentoring which they would in a regular season. Depending on their current level of development, this could place them anywhere from 6 to 18 months behind where they expected to be coming into next season.

Even fringe NRL players in the top squads, who continue to receive coaching and physical preparation, will be impacted by the loss of match time in the Canterbury Cup, Jersey Flegg and Queensland Cup competitions and the loss of income associated with that. They are almost the forgotten players in the current scenarios, and it’s important that plans are in place for them. It’s not outside the realms of possibility that rationalisation could occur in Junior Rep programs. 

We can probably expect that, at least in the short term, the NRL will continue to reduce its grants to the clubs. They will likely implement further changes.

There’s recent history pointing to limits being imposed on football department expenditure.

Coming into the 2018 season, the NRL mandated a $5.7m football department cap. Whether that is further reduced, or whether the clubs say they can’t afford that level of spending, is yet to be revealed, but it’s not a huge stretch to believe that it could be part of cost cutting.

Just how significant that becomes could shape the quality of programs run by each club.

The importance of maintaining quality football programs cannot be understated as it is the standard of NRL football which attracts the audience, which in turn creates the wealth needed to support its future. Not only does this impact the fortunes of individual clubs, it reflects the overall health of the code.

Looking at some basic broadcasting figures from the 2019 season reinforces the current market position of the NRL.

The 2019 NRL season rated around 88 million viewers at an average viewership of nearly 460,000 per game. The finals series added just over 12 million more viewers.

NRL fans were watching an average of 3.5 hours each week on Kayo, with some regular season games reaching nearly 70,000 users. On 9NOW, an average of 2.9 million minutes was streamed online every round. In total, 302 million minutes of NRL were streamed on Telstra Live Pass and the NRL Live official app across 2019 to the end of the regular season.

The crown in the jewel was obviously Origin, which pulled in approximately 9 million viewers nationally across the three fixtures. What a ratings bonanza rugby league is for Channel 9! Four out of the top ten highest viewed free to air programs for the year are rugby league broadcasts – the three Origin matches and the Grand Final. Additionally, those four matches occupy four out of the top five watched sports broadcasts.

Why mention these figures?

It’s very simple.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of millions of Australians. For some it has been life changing. It has commercially impacted the NRL.

However, something that won’t be negatively impacted is the audience for the game of rugby league. There may be a current short term hit, but when the product is back on the market, the people will tune in, crowds will return when allowed, and that aspect of the revenue stream will bounce back quickly. Incredibly, thousands of supporters have maintained their memberships despite no firm guarantee that they will attend another game this year.

Only one thing will prevent rugby league re-establishing it’s place at the top of the Australian sports market (or even broadening its reach) – and that’s a poorer product.

That may be a warning to the NRL or it might be a warning to individual clubs.

Be careful where you trim your expenses. There are aspects of any operation where savings can be found, but no industry will improve its market share by installing inferior methods of production. Those that protect their product, their programs, as best they can, will be the ones whose revenue streams will be the most resilient.

The game of rugby league, the players that take the field and the staff who get them there, are the code’s greatest asset.

We need to ensure it remains that way. Of all the commercially smart decisions that need to be made, it’s surely top of the list.

Eels forever!


Notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I simply pose this question , chicken or the egg ? Was the football team formed first then the leagues club to support it , or vice versa , we all know the answer , our football team is the product , my concern is that the now current board and ceo recognise this fact and maintain said product !!

Colin Hussey

Even if the season does go ahead this year, I am quite concerned for the future, same thing will be in the minds of other codes as well but for me, I am not sure of the form/format that the game will head to going forward. Great the jnr codes are also being allowed to play for this year, but the loss of the CC, is a biggy for me. I have seen too many comps, teams and players lose out over the years, and I see a repeat coming. There has been some media speculation as to what form… Read more »


Colin could not agree more with your last statement. I have stopped watching some shows as some of the ex-players have been dribbling on a bit. One of them used to play for Canberra and coached them too for a short while…

Colin Hussey

Thanks Milo. I also like what you have said in reply to sixtes as well. For me the sadness of sixties post and the other items that have been said on this special day, brings a sorrow to me in not just the aspect of Anzac’s and Anzac day itself but, when we think of the last post and its history or beginnings plays hard on me. Many do not know its origins and the story behind it, it does remind of what is happening with the NRL and powers for and against its start up and possible future. Here… Read more »


Powerful stuff Col, and thanks for the history.


Sixties i do not have an answer to all this but see your point and agree. It is somewhat concerning about the junior reps and CC being lost this season along with the end to the A Johns / Daley, Ball and Harold Matt’s…..i guess the only consistency is that each club is in the same boat. I guess this is where due to the NRL’s financial issues that have been shown now we are faced with this…….I will not say anything more on this. I feel football clubs should not have a reduced cap for their football dept as… Read more »

Colin Hussey

sixties, I would suggest rather than the probability of a number of players being on inflated, its a reality in more cases than one would thinking of. From what I have read in bits here and there, the size of the staff numbers at RL headquarters is very much on the high side, and from a realistic perspective and its being said a bit more openly there will be staff cuts there, be it this year or next, certainly the number of people working there seems to be on the high side considering the actual size of RL as a… Read more »


Thanks sixties i should clarify – i would look at a tiered system where capped numbers at lower pay tiers etc. have not thought too far but it could be done.I truly think the higher paid players need to be cut back and this may not seem fair but that could be the difference between playing with Manly or for GC. Make clubs look at the higher wages (DCE reported to be on $1 mill etc); but this would also depend if the Cap was cut by 5-10% for example. What is the cap now? $9.6? Min wage about $100k?… Read more »

Big Derek

The loss of junior reps and NSWRL competitions is significant, already players have taken on jobs that will prevent taking up playing positions. The club I am involved with has already lost 3 junior rep level players as once they cancelled the junior rep competitions , it was an easier decision to take up jobs and leave playing behind. The stepping stone that Ball and Mathews present is a significant attraction that disappeared as the pandemic hit. There is already talk that funding will be reduced from junior leagues and junior reps with all the opportunities to do other things,… Read more »

John Eel

I have read that Penrith have already stated that they will be scaling back their large involvement in junior league to reduce costs. Leagues clubs are going to take some time until they have the cash flow to sponsor NRL in the future. With respect to Higgsys post I don’t think it will be so much a question of whether the clubs want to underwrite the football teams but a matter of how much cashflow will be available to finance it, Every day these clubs are closed and not earning revenue they are building debt that will need to be… Read more »

John Eel

I do agree with Higgsy and in fact the recent changes to the PLC constitution enshrined this.

The point I was trying to make is that the club will be struggling for their own survival. As much as the PLC may want to spend up big on the NRL team and junior football they will be constrained with mounting costs from the shutdown and dwindling revenues. The problem with dwindling revenues was evident and a concern prior to the shutdown occurring


Mate i was speaking about the nrl product specifically , the junior problem will be solved by the people its always been solved by , parents , volunteers and people that just love footy, the nrl product is an sustainable self funded entity unto itself its just been mismanaged , the clubs wont have to underwrite the nrl team once caps are in place on an even basis for all .The juniors use to run themselves until clubs wanted to take control and created thier own headaches , just my opinion,


Without forensically going through costs,doing analysis over a term to see how expenditures have changed, doing comparative analysis, it is not simple to understand how things can be restructured, where the trade offs are. And that’s both Head Office and Clubs. Usually, any re-set after a time of plenty reveals waste. But certainly one appreciation I have developed over the past few years reading TCT is the depth of expertise,effort and resource required to support an NRL team, moreso a top level team. Maintaining standards should be adopted as a guiding principle, 100% with that one sixties.


We know greenberg was taking a paycut (now a payout ,nice obviously for a job well done , are there any facts around indicating which ceo,s have taken similar !!!!!

John Eel

His decision to stand down is likely to see him avoid the pay cut.


Someone asked recently ‘how much money has been wasted on paying out coaches,CEOs,executives?’ Greenberg’s payout is contractual 6months/$650k. The payouts become most wasteful when a replacement is employed straight away, it becomes a double up in cost.Usually coaches become a double up.


Nrl needs to set expenditure standards and rules, 2 coaches only plus 1 part time specialist coach , limits on trainers, welfare people physios etc , set a staffing budget that all teams have to stay within i suppose and let them decide whats more important to the club within that budget ,reduce salary cap and set rules with numbered levels within ,(60,s could explain that in detail better than me based on our conversations that a pretty close to same thinking ) stop juniors being able to be signed before sensiblle age , only register a fixed number of… Read more »


Well said Sixties, I agree with all you said. My main concerns are about the junior programs being supported. Our junior system is one advantage we have and we need to protect it. The NRL has a huge role to play. The game cannot let the junior league systems suffer, both elite pathways and weekend junior league. Look at Rugby, they lost focus on juniors and developing juniors and we can see the result, both on and off the field. The NRL and Parra needs to look long term. Being able to have good quality and well coached juniors coming… Read more »

Colin Hussey

Shelley, I do not disagree with the overall thrust of what you are saying in fact I agree with it, and its been a big concern of mine now for many a long day. Both Penrith and Parra have supported Jnr league comps for years now and I believe the pushers for the meat market picking of players, and opening up a type of auction for players with the reason being to even out the competition is what will cause a lot of grief in the long run. We already see players the eels wanted to keep being picked up… Read more »

Achilles' Eel

An excellent post, Sixties, and a timely reminder of the importance of junior footy to the overall product. I see junior development among NRL clubs in the assembly of age squads as messy, competitive and heated. But it works. Even if some clubs do more of the heavy lifting than others. Or even if I mock the process for some light-hearted banter at times: like when I facetiously imagine Bob Fulton to be driving a Mr Whippy ice-cream van to junior venues in the Parramatta district offering tasty treats to the kids accompanied by a contract to play for Manly.… Read more »

Achilles' Eel

I’ll be interested to see how the year lost to the game will affect the current twenty year-olds. Do they raise the age-bracket to twenty-one for next year’s Jersey Flegg? This has parallels with those sitting for year twelve exams. In relation to Parramatta, what happens to Kyle Schneider, Charbel Tasipale and Aitasi Matu’utu now? I think they show promise but can’t play for the minors any more. I’m sure clubs have contingency plans in place. It makes the next preseason worth following.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x