OPINION: The Canberra Raiders travel to Queensland today to play the Gold Coast Titans, having lost seven of their past eight matches.
They sit equal last on the premiership table and in real danger of missing the semifinals in consecutive years for the first time since 1985-86. They're also in danger of picking up the club's first wooden spoon since their inaugural year of 1982.
Understandably, the Raiders are trying to find the right combination of players to maximise their winning chances, both for today and for the remaining games this season.
Regular first choice three-quarters Edrick Lee and Jack Wighton are on the long-term injury list.
Head Coach Ricky Stuart has used a number of players in the outside backs, with varying degrees of success, searching to find his best short- and long-term options in these key positions.
On Tuesday, the Raiders announced their team to play the Titans, including a promising 21-year-old by the name of Jeremy Hawkins, to make his NRL debut.
Hawkins has been in the Canberra system for a number of years, starring in some very good Raider's NYC teams during that period, before graduating to the NSW Cup this year.
He has waited patiently for this opportunity, but just 24 hours after learning of his selection, he was told the NRL would not allow him to play first grade, due to the restrictions imposed by the ridiculous second-tier salary cap.
It would appear his annual salary, when combined with the annual salaries of other Raiders players earning less than the 25th highest paid player at the club who have been used in first grade this season, would push the Raiders above the permissible $440,000 a year second-tier salary cap level.
As a result, Canberra has been forced to field an inferior team today and it's unlikely Hawkins will be able to play NRL at all this year.
It is extremely damaging that clubs are being prevented from selecting their strongest possible line-ups as a result of the failings of both previous and current NRL administrations.
I have often written of the unfairness and inadequacies of this second-tier cap system. It serves no worthwhile purpose. It is counterproductive to the development of our game and to the development of young NRL hopefuls.
Since its inception, at the whim of the then salary cap auditor, many young men have been denied the chance to play first grade, due to the inadequacies of the second-tier cap.
The most frustrating part is that whenever this is discussed with NRL management, they nod in furious agreement, yet do absolutely nothing about it.
Even if the game decides it needs some form of second-tier salary cap for over-aged players outside the top 25 playing roster, (and I don't believe we do), then even the current rules of the second-tier cap have not kept pace with other aspects of the game.
Let me explain.
The NRL has steadily increased the salary cap for the top 25 players at each club from $3.8 million in 2005, to $6.3 million in 2014 and to $7 million in 2017.
The salary cap for those outside the top 25 (known as the second-tier cap) has only risen from $300,000 in 2005, to $440,000 in 2014 and to $490,000 in 2017.
Therefore the top-tier cap goes up by $3.2 million in 13 years but the second-tier cap goes up by just $190,000 over the same period.
The minimum wage has gone from $37,500 in 2005, to $77,500 in 2014 (106.67% increase from 2005 to 2014) and will rise to $85,000 in 2017.
In 2005 the second-tier cap was eight times the minimum wage but in 2014 it is just 5.68 times the minimum wage.
Even more frustrating is the fact the NRL has never once explained why they changed the ratio from eight times, to only five times the minimum wage.
Last year we were told the NRL acknowledged the inadequacies of the second-tier cap and promised action.
The result was a paltry $75,000 increase for this year, not even equivalent to one player earning a minimum wage.
The salary cap review, which was handed down in May, was a massive disappointment.
Not only did it fail to fix the problems with the second-tier cap, but they extraordinarily left the NYC cap at the same level as it was when the competition started, back in 2008.
The NRL has determined that the NYC salary cap, which was set at $250,000 in 2008 will still be at $250,000 10 years later, in 2017.
When the NYC commenced the cap was set at 6.10% of the top tier cap. By 2017 it will be 3.57%.
What this is doing is forcing clubs to pay many NYC eligible players a salary that places them in the top 25 tier cap, as competition and inflation have increased money that top NYC players can demand.
These NYC players now sit inside the top 25 NRL salary cap, even though the vast majority of them are nowhere near ready to play a full season in NRL football.
Ideally, the NRL should be looking at young players 17 to 20 years of age, being part of an apprenticeship system or earning designated rookie contract levels that are uniform across all clubs.
The lucrative earnings available if you make it to the NRL level are surely incentives enough for youngsters to persevere. Having to pay teenagers contracts that earn them more than the prime minister is irresponsible.
It creates all kinds of problems for the game and the kids themselves.
Quite simply, no young player should ever be denied a chance to make his NRL debut. If that player then plays well enough to hold down a regular spot in the NRL team, he should never be forced to stand down.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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