Super League intensifies efforts to tempt union players to switch codes

Aaron Bower
A salary cap increase would also help Super League to stop players such as Wigan’s George Williams from making the switch to union. Photograph: Craig Brough/Reuters

Super League will step up its efforts to lure rugby union players following the salary cap increase, after the man who spearheaded the move said chances have been missed in signing union players.

The £1.825m wage ceiling will rise incrementally over the next three seasons, reaching £2.1m by 2020. However, it is the dispensations clubs voted through last Wednesday which may make the biggest change; with clubs granted exemptions from the salary cap to sign “returning players” – those who have left Super League to join the 15-a-side game.

Roger Draper, the Super League’s chief commercial officer, said the competition will intensify its efforts to attract the best talent in the world. “We’re hoping to attract players from the NRL but also rugby union,” he said.

“The totality of all the changes mean clubs get around an extra £400,000 on the cap. We’ve also relaxed the rules regarding returning talent because I found it strange that when I came into this role, there were some high-profile ex-rugby league players in union who wanted to come back but couldn’t because of our rules and regulations. That’s strange. We want some of those players returning.”

Draper also said it was only fair to allow the clubs with more spending power the opportunity to flex their muscles in the transfer market to try to increase rugby league’s profile. “We’ve got to give those clubs and owners who do want to pay out the money to bring in elite talent the ability to do so,” he said.

The former LTA chief executive conceded the change allowing clubs to have two marquee players from 2018 is unlikely to prompt the best players in the NRL to come to Super League. “It’s more geared at keeping the George Williams’ of this world in the sport,” he said. “The NRL’s top 20 all get £1m-£1.5m and if an owner wants to pay that, great, but I think it’s more about keeping the best English players here.”

The changes have not been welcomed unanimously. A number of clubs who voted against the proposals, which were all approved on a 7-5 basis, have written to the RFL threatening to scrap their academy setups in order to invest that money into their first team to keep up with the big spenders.

Two Super League clubs operate without academy sides, with the RFL’s category one setups costing in the region of £300,000 to run. With discontent about clubs now being able to spend more on the cap and some sides not being forced into a compulsory academy programme, a number of Super League clubs have threatened to revert to cheaper, cost-productive category three academy schemes.

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