NRL accused of 'new low' in bitter CBA negotiation with players

NRL players and the RLPA are fuming after a league executive accompanying Andrew Abdo attempted to secretly record a key union meeting.

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo is pictured following the 2022 grand final.
NRL boss Andrew Abdo faced an awkward situation during CBA negotiations, when an executive accompanying him was discovered secretly recording the private meeting. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement for NRL players has taken an awkward turn for league officials, after they were sprung secretly recording a private meeting. Roughly 60 players met privately with NRL boss Andrew Abdo earlier in the week, in a meeting which was not supposed to go beyond the four walls it was being held in.

The 2023 NRL season remains at risk of starting late as negotiations between the league and the Rugby League Players Association (RLPA) remain at a stalemate. Players were left furious late last year, when the NRL leaked a major increase in the total salary cup in future seasons.

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Abdo met with players at a leadership conference convened by the RLPA in a bid to get the stalled negotiations moving again, on the proviso that no details of the meeting were to be kept. However during that meeting, Melbourne Storm centre Justin Olam reportedly spotted an NRL executive accompanying Abdo attempting to record conversations on her phone.

The NRL executive, who briefly attempted to hide the recording, was asked to leave before the meeting continued. Afterwards, RLPA chair Diedre Anderson emailed Australian Rugby League Commission boss Peter V'landys to register the union's displeasure with what they believed amounted to subterfuge.

"...upon arrival, Andrew (Abdo) was accompanied by (an NRL employee) … this was disappointing given (the employee) was not invited, nor had Andrew given any forewarning that (the employee) would be attending," Anderson's email read.

“Nevertheless, RLPA management (with the consent of player leaders), allowed (the employee) to sit in on Andrew’s discussion out of respect for (their) role ... To ensure an open and honest environment for Andrew and the players, no filming or recording of this session was permitted and no media representatives were present.

“What then followed is nothing short of illegal which, on its face, seriously calls into question the integrity of the NRL, its executive and its culture. I am instructed that a player (who I will not name), raised concerns with RLPA staff that (the employee) was covertly recording the session on (their) phone.

"The player raised the concern based on their understanding that attendees were not permitted to record these discussions. An RLPA staff member queried with (the official) as to whether (they were) recording, which (the official) denied (twice).

"Upon further inquiry by the staff member, (they) lifted (their) phone (which was face down) and realised that the screen clearly showed that a recording was taking place. (They) then asked to speak to the staff member outside, and the two left the room in full view of all players in attendance.

“Once outside, (the official) admitted to recording the conversation and acknowledged it was inappropriate for (them) to be doing so. Further, (the employee) stated that (they) had been acting under the instruction of another NRL executive.

“Now I don’t feel I need to state how concerning these actions were. The deliberate and covert nature of the recording is breathtaking. It is immoral, unethical and illegal. There was no consent granted to record. In fact, no attempt to seek consent occurred.”

NRL season launch in jeopardy as strike talk gains momentum

The NRL season launch is already in jeopardy as the RLPA continues to fight for better conditions post retirement, chiefly seeking medical retirement and transition funds for the health and education of players once they hang up their boots.

But now Parramatta back-rower Shaun Lane, an RLPA delegate for the Eels, says the dispute has lingered for too long and a strike may be the only solution.

"I think everyone's hopeful of a resolution soon but, whether it's realistic or not, I'm not too sure," Lane told AAP on Tuesday. "It's dragged on for way too long. It should have been handled six months ago and obviously it's heading to a time where some action may need to be taken in order to finally resolve the conflict and get what we need to get out of this bargain.

Parramatta Eels player Shaun Lane is tackled by a Manley rival during an NRL match.
Parramatta Eels player and RLPA representative Shaun Lane wants the NRL to bring CBA negotiations to a swift end. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

"A strike is probably the last thing that everyone wants to occur and obviously understanding the best interests for all the stakeholders in the game - players, clubs, the NRL, fans, sponsors - the last thing that anyone wants to happen is to strike and for footy to be cancelled. So we've tried to do everything that we can to signify that we don't want to do that and that we want to resolve these negotiations before it gets to that point.

"But unfortunately you've seen historically sometimes these things need to occur. I guess if it does get to that point then we will be willing to do whatever's necessary."

Lane said "the most appropriate next steps" were discussed at the most recent RLPA leadership conference last month, with only the third strike in more than a century of premiership rugby league obviously the most drastic - and last resort - course of action considered.

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