NRL boss hits back over 'one-sided' claims from players: 'Not true'

Andrew Abdo has hit back at the players' union, as the NRL season remains at risk from a potential strike.

NRL boss Andrew Abdo and Andrew Fifita are pictured side by side.
NRL boss Andrew Abdo has rejected certain claims from the players' union amid increasingly tense CBA negotiations, with Sharks gun Andrew Fifita among those pushing for a better retirement and medical fund. Pictures: Getty Images

The tension between the NRL and the league's players is showing no signs of abating, with NRL boss Andrew Abdo hitting back at what he claimed were 'one-sided' arguments from the players' union. The NRL and Rugby League Players' Association have been at a standoff that is threatening the start of the 2023 season over negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

Players were miffed when the NRL abruptly announced the new salary cap for the next five years, despite the league and players having not reached an agreement on a new CBA. As a result, many players have refused to participate in promotional and media commitments, with a league-wide strike still looming unless a deal can be struck soon.

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A CBA proposal was first sent to players and the RLPA shortly before the 2022 finals, however the December reveal that the salary cap would increase by $2.5 million in 2023 was met with some frustration. An injury hardship and retirement fund world $200 million is at the top of players' wish list.

Other issues include establishing the first CBA for women's rugby league players, as well as a minimum salary for vulnerable players. Players coordinated with the RLPA earlier in January to take to social media as a united front to explain what they were seeking from the NRL.

However their arguments have not been looked upon favourably by Abdo, who labelled what the players were demanding as a 'gold standard for themselves' and a package ultimately not in the long-term financial interest of the NRL. He told the Sydney Morning Herald that it was 'not true' that the NRL hadn't come to the negotiating table, as claimed by the RLPA.

“We have spent months listening and refining our offers to the RLPA for a new CBA. The RLPA have not shown much movement in their statements of claims over this period," he said.

“In my view, the prioritisation and compromise has been one-sided. We could shake hands now, and accept every claim being made.

“My life would become a whole lot easier and we could get back to focusing on growing the sport. But we are custodians for the game.

“We can’t send the game bankrupt. The accountability for thinking long-term and in the best interests of all stakeholders sits with the commission.

“As CEO of the NRL I am accountable to get a deal done. It needs to be a fair and reasonable deal. I take that very seriously. However, in order to do that I need to be able to work with a counterparty that’s willing to prioritise and compromise.”

NRL, players' union at loggerheads over league CBA

Retired players are exempt from workers' compensation but are given a year - a timeframe which the RLPA wants to extend - to have corrective surgeries covered by the game. In the case of Andrew Fifita, who played nearly 300 games at elite level, he faces the daunting prospect of six procedures in the space of a year.

He has already had an osteotomy on his knee as well as having his nose reconstructed.

"I've got 12 months to get it done, and I feel like I'm rushing to get it all sorted," he told AAP. "I find having 12 months is a bit of a s**t go, but I feel like that's why it's important what the RLPA is doing.

"I've always heard from past players who said how important it was to get your body checked (before retirement) so you can get all the stuff you need."

Penrith Panthers players huddle together to celebrate a try against Parramatta in the 2022 NRL Grand Final.
The NRL risks a potential player strike if a new CBA can not be agreed upon before the beginning of the 2023 season. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The former Tongan international must go under the knife for problems with his wrist, shoulder and elbow and needs to have a finger fused. The 12-month window has two implications for the former Sharks favourite.

If he requires further surgery beyond the next year he won't be covered by the game. It has also meant that after recently beginning a mentoring role at a school in Sydney's south he has had to book all of his surgeries around the holidays.

He claimed he underestimated how much pain he would be in when he agreed to operations on his knee and nose within three weeks of each other. "I really underplayed it and how sore I was," said the 33-year-old.

"Up until I got my knee surgery I worked and then got it done just before Christmas and I was bedridden for the whole school holidays."

Fifita conceded he was one of the more fortunate players after enjoying a glittering career at the elite level. And he said if push came to shove he would prioritise working over having surgeries.

"With my family hat on, my bills aren't going to pay themselves," he said. "My kids have to be fed."

With AAP

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