One complication would have been players unavailable for their new clubs from November 1 because they had not completed commitments with their existing one.
For example, if St George Illawarra and Newcastle contested a November grand final, what is the status of Dragon Tyson Frizell, given he has signed with the Knights for 2021?
Should Frizell elect to finish the season with the Dragons, he would be entitled to a contract extension, while the Knights could dock him a month’s salary.
Players already contracted to remain at their current club for 2021 would also pose problems if they were due for increased payments. Would the club pay them after October 31 on the old money or the new rate?
NRL clubs report that about 80 per cent of their players are contracted for 2021, but most players have yearly increases built into their deals.
Rugby League Central confirms that discussions have taken place about prolonging the contract year and it is understood the Rugby League Players Association is sympathetic to an extension.
However, with an October 25 grand final, only State of Origin players will be affected, with the three interstate games played in November.
The Storm’s Josh Addo-Carr is expected to play for NSW but has indicated he wishes to play for a Sydney club in 2021. With a shortened pre-season, will his new club demand he report for duty in November?
He has been hit with a $50,000 fine, 60 per cent suspended, for his stupid act in breaching social distance rules and will be looking to recoup some of it through the $30,000 a match Origin pays. While player incomes are expected to fall, fines are fixed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also created some problems with cross-code signings, such as the Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu, who is contracted to the Queensland Reds for next season. Should the Storm make the October 25 NRL grand final, he will be available for his club and is not qualified to play Origin.
However, Rugby Australia’s severe financial situation may prompt a change of mind.
Should the Fijian-born Vunivalu elect to remain with the Storm, his re-signing could have salary-cap implications.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant financial implications, and player contacts and salary caps will be cut across the board. A pro-rata cut in player contracts and the cap won’t create room for new contracts at clubs sitting with zero salary space.
The NRL has been more assertive than the AFL, which made an early commitment to an 18-round season. With only one round played, it has not announced a starting date and therefore a grand final date.
Their player contract year also concludes on October 31 and an AFL club source confirms contracts will need to be renegotiated.
The debate about whether AFL and NRL teams should lose premiership points for games already played in 2020 has gained little traction in Melbourne, with former Collingwood premiership coach Mick Malthouse being a lone voice in calling for the points being scrapped.
Prominent NRL identities, such as Roosters chairman Nick Politis and Titans football manager Mal Meninga, have questioned the validity of teams retaining their points, correctly arguing that all AFL teams knew before round one that the 2020 season would be only 18 rounds, while the NRL faced a season of indeterminate length. It was only this week the NRL’s broadcasters agreed to a 20-round season.
One long-term result of the pandemic could be a reduction in the length of the Daly Cherry-Evans-type 10-year contracts, particularly if the financial penalty is ongoing. Too often a player’s use-by date at a club has preceded the end of his contract, resulting in him being shopped around.
The downside is greater turnover of talent with more “have boots, will travel” players.
Roy Masters is a Sports Columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.