Under the “termination due to health risk” section of the NRL player contract, it states: “Where in the reasonable opinion of the club medical officer, the player would by reason of some physical medical condition be exposed by playing the game to a greater than usual risk to his health, or to a greater than usual risk to injury, the club may at any time during the employment term, terminate this agreement with immediate effect.”
The termination pay-out in this instance would entitle the players to the remainder of their 2020 contract value, as well as a quarter of next year’s salary.
Cartwright still has another $250,000 owed to him by the Titans this year as part of his $600,000-a-season salary, however NRL players have agreed to receive around half their pay for the next five months due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which reduces Cartwright’s 2020 outstanding value to $125,000.
If his contract is terminated he would receive that $125,000 as well as a quarter of his 2021 salary, which would see him earn just $275,000 of the $725,000 he would be entitled to if he takes the injection and sees out the remaining two seasons of his deal. As of Wednesday night, neither Cartwright nor Kelly had notified the Titans of their intentions.
As the Titans await decisions from Cartwright and Kelly, other NRL clubs – and officials from Rugby Australia and the AFL – are hoping the Queensland government will ease its stance on pro-choice players in the coming weeks.
Leaked minutes from Monday’s Australian Health Protection Principal Committee meeting showed the nation’s top medical officials had received briefings on professional sport.
Along with revealing 93 NRL players and staff members had had coronavirus tests, the minutes said: “All NRL/AFL/ARU players to have flu vaccinations unless medically exempted who want to enter Qld.”
Interestingly, however, the AHPPC flagged potential courtroom consequences of Queensland’s stance by recording: “Legal issues? NRL have said they would enforce flu vaccination – this is an issue for the NRL as employers.”
Manly stars Dylan Walker and Addin Fonua-Blake, Canberra trio Josh Papalii, Joe Tapine and Sia Soliola and Bulldogs hooker Sione Katoa have all refused to have the flu jab and are subsequently barred from entering Queensland.
The Panthers are also believed to have several players who have not yet been vaccinated. At this stage, those players will have to be left in NSW while their teammates travel north of the border as the Queensland government granted the NRL exemption to play and train in the state on the proviso that all 50 members of each club’s ‘bubble’ would be vaccinated.
Queensland’s stance is unlikely to change until state borders are opened in the coming months, at which point it is expected Queensland’s chief health officer will ease the restriction on pro-choice players.
Rugby Australia is also planning to resume an interstate competition in July but said having time on its side will be crucial if there are indeed any “speedbumps” that do arise from players deciding not to take the flu shot.
RA’s head of professional rugby Anthony French, who has been liaising with the Queensland government, conceded that “less than a handful” of players may object to taking the vaccine.
All Waratahs and Brumbies players have had their flu shots, while the Melbourne Rebels do not return until Monday but the team’s doctor will follow up with those who haven’t taken it yet.
Despite a report some Reds players were not keen on getting the injection, a spokesperson said that to his knowledge everyone was on board and those who had not received it would do so next week.
RA’s proposed competition is a home-and-away season, meaning teams would need to cross the Queensland border regularly.
“Our target date is for a comp in early July so we have a bit of time to work around any speed bumps that might arise but the fact is the flu vaccination program is part of our standard operating procedures,” French said. “I think there’s probably, if there are any, less than a handful that might have an issue with having an injection, whether it be for some sort of medical reason or otherwise. It’s never been a big issue for us in general.
“Our [return to play] documentation is still with the Queensland government. We’re conscious that they are managing a broader health issue … so we’re not trying to be too pushy. We do have time up our sleeve.”
French said because Australian rugby’s new domestic competition won’t begin until at least five weeks after the NRL, restrictions may have eased by then, allowing more time to plan.
“Our comp date start date is later in July, which is probably when the broader community may return to work,” French said. “Until we get the clear feedback from the government on that manual, we will probably need to wait before we jump to make decisions on what we will and won’t do.”
with Sam Phillips
Michael Chammas is a sports reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald
Tom Decent is a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald