Joke is on players in NRL’s latest comedy routine
Greenberg and Crawford might well be the greatest comedy duo since Abbott and Costello entertained us on our black and white television sets.
Abbott and Costello had a financial routine that reads like an NRL guidebook.
A woman emerges on the boardwalk to play the pea in the shell game and, pure as a lamb, she says she wants to wager $10.
Abbott, with a fist full of cash, turns to Costello, who thinks the mark is the woman.
"Have you got two tens for a five?" Abbott asks, and Costello gladly hands over two $10 dollar notes in exchange for a $5 note before it dawns.
"Wait a minute … What kind of fast one did you just give me?"
Abbott is crestfallen.
"Still beefy, huh?" he says.
"I'm your pal," says Costello, "what are you trying to cheat me for?"
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Fast hands and faster mouths are why the 16 clubs walked into Monday's meeting with the NRL with their hands placed protectively over their wallets.
NRL boss Todd Greenberg and his chief financial officer Tony Crawford have basically evaporated any trust the game's key earners, the 16 clubs and their players, have left in the game's ability to run itself.
Years of financial cloak and dagger have finally been revealed at the NRL.
Last Tuesday Australian Rugby League chairman Peter V'landys threw open the books, showed clubs the NRL's financial state, and said he believed he could honour their monthly payments of $1.18 million each until the end of July.
V'landys then handed it over to Greenberg and Crawford to do the details. A day later, with V'landys absent, they reneged on V'landys offer, telling the clubs they would instead get $300,000 a month.
They argued the clubs were no longer paying the players so the clubs didn't need the full freight. Damn their costs. The coaching staff sent home without pay, for instance.
Around this time the NRL met with the Rugby League Players Association and told them they had enough money to pay for April, but that was it. There was nothing more until November.
Soon after, the RLPA learned that the NRL had failed to pay an annual $5 million into their retirement funds for the 2018, 2019 and 2020 seasons.
The NRL defended itself by explaining their creative accounting.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in 2018 calls only for the entire amount to be paid by the end of the 2022 broadcast deal, which shapes as a shocking year for the NRL, but means they forfeit any investment returns the money brings over the period as well as compound interest.
The players are the big losers in that one.
As well as the expected $25 million in players' fund, the missing $6 million in the distressed clubs fund, which they could certainly do with now and the clubs discovered last week had also failed to be paid, the NRL also has to pay back the $49 million deferred loan from Fox Sports borrowed in 2018 when cash was short and the banks refused the game a $30 million loan.
Rugby league was not always bad at managing its money.
When the Super League war broke in 1994 several ARL big hitters assembled at the war room at Phillip St headquarters to determine exactly what they had to fight with.
The boss of Optus reckoned he could get $600 or $700 million to try to defeat the News Corp plunge.
Kerry Packer asked his financial advisor how much the Packer empire had and, a man who knew the value of wealth, the money man told Packer he would tell him later. He realised Optus had just given him the keys to the safe.
Packer then asked ARL chairman Ken Arthurson how much money the game had in the bank.
"We've got about $20 million," Arthurson said. "You should love that."
The ARL had a 20 team competition in 1994, a broadcast deal worth just $8 million a year, and yet had $20 million in the bank.
This current NRL has a 16-team competition, a broadcast deal worth $360 million a year, and has chewed through about $4 billion in the Commission era and saved about $30 million.
It took V'landys to head back into League Central last Friday to fix it again.
It seemed while the NRL had taken an axe to the clubs' and players' wages they had attacked their own finances with nothing more severe than nose clippers.
V'landys slashed spending at the NRL Friday morning and on Monday upped the players payments from the $12.4 million that Greenberg and Crawford could provide to $19.2 million, or basically an extra month.
He also upped the club payments to a one-off $2.5 million cheque that is above what they thought they would get, but still puts tremendous strain on clubs.
The NRL is considering borrowing up to $150 million to get through the current crisis and has told clubs, if the loan is approved, they can then borrow from them to meet their costs.
The clubs are stunned.
"They mismanaged their funds, and now can't afford to pay us, and now they want us to borrow from them," said one club boss.
Money comes and money goes, and where it goes nobody knows. It's all slight of hand.
Abbott and Costello got it right.
"All right," says Abbott, seemingly aware the ruse is up, "forget about it."
"Here's your five, give me back my two tens."
And Costello hands over his two tens.
It is like an NRL manual at present.
Originally published as Joke is on players in NRL's latest comedy routine