'Our Melbourne Cup': The $90m Origin plan that could save the NRL

Andrew Reid
·5-min read
Pictured here, the NSW side celebrate their 2019 Origin series victory.
A State of Origin series could generate as much as $90 million for rugby league. Pic: Getty

Plans are reportedly in the pipelines to stage a State of Origin series that could generate around $90 million for the NRL, amid the most challenging financial time in the competition's history.

NRL players have already been asked to take a pay cut of up to 87 per cent as the league braces for the worst-case scenario of an abandoned season due to coronavirus.

Those pay negotiations between the NRL and its players will linger into next week after the two parties failed to reach an agreement on Friday.

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Already presented with a model for an 87 per cent drop in coming months due to the coronavirus suspension, the players' union spoke with the NRL and clubs again on Friday.

But while all parties had been hoping to reach a deal by the end of this week and talks were productive, it became clear that would not be possible.

Next week now shapes as a big one for the league.

It's looking increasingly likely that the competition won't be able to resume until June 1 at the earliest, with a reduced 15-game season on the cards.

Following this week's bombshell from the NRL's pandemic expert that the 2020 season could be a complete wipeout, however, league bosses are desperately trying to come up with solutions.

The Courier Mail is reporting that Australian Rugby League Commission chairman (ARLC) Peter V’Landys is putting together a State of Origin package that could generate tens-of-millions of dollars for the code.

It's understood V'Landys has gathered funds to support a State of Origin rescue package that would help the game navigate through its financial crisis.

Queensland Rugby League (QRL) has floated the idea of playing the series in October or November - even if the NRL season doesn't resume before the September 1 cut off date.

If the worst case scenario is realised and the remainder of the NRL season has to be scrapped, it would only make an Origin series even more attractive for league-starved fans - with all three games as good as guaranteed to sell out.

QRL chairman Bruce Hatcher admitted to The Courier-Mail that the resumption of the NRL season is the priority, but insists the prospects of an Origin series that could generate $90 million for the game can't be ignored.

Queensland league figures desperately want an Origin series this year to help save the game.
The Queensland Rugby League is pushing for a State of Origin series towards the end of the year. Pic: Getty

“Cancelling Origin is the last thing the NRL should consider," Hatcher said.

“When you look at the revenue needed to make sure players are paid and clubs don’t fold, State of Origin can help the situation.

“We have to play Origin this year. It’s our Melbourne Cup. It’s our showpiece event.”

NRL great and Maroons selector Darren Lockyer says any money generated from an Origin series could be divided amongst the 16 clubs.

“Even if the NRL puts a line through the season, playing State of Origin generates tens of millions from a whole-of-game perspective,” Lockyer said.

“Origin is one way to generate some income for the game and the rest of the players who comprise the entire competition.

“The 34 players representing NSW and Queensland could generate money to go into the pool to help the rest of their colleagues in the game.

Pay talks to ramp up again next week

The next round of broadcast money would usually be due on April 1 for the following quarter, but it now appears unlikely those funds will drop.

A meeting of all 16 club bosses is also now scheduled for Monday morning, after it was postponed from Friday.

It came as the Queensland Rugby League, NSWRL and NRL cancelled their reserve grade and interstate carnivals for the year.

The decision means for the first time in the game's 112-year history, a second-tier premier will not be announced.

It also means hundreds of second-tier male and female players won't return to the field this year and must begin preparing for 2021.

Meanwhile, players at the top are well aware they must take a heavy cut after being paid in full for the first five months of the NRL year from November.

But after a Rugby League Players' Association board meeting on Thursday night, they are still eager to understand further details of the NRL's own costings and the position of the clubs.

The NRL has already placed the majority of its staff on leave, while chief executive Todd Greenberg said publicly this week he too could be forced to take a cut.

The 87 per cent drop is considered a worst-case scenario measure, based on the NRL's finances if the top-tier competition is also cancelled for 2020.

Current players will also continue to be consulted over the weekend, before more meetings are set down for early next week.

The option of a tiered cut still remains popular, which would mean those on higher dollars sacrifice a greater percentage of their salary than those on minimum wage.

Regardless, an agreement is needed as soon as possible as it will paint a clearer picture for struggling clubs on where their finances stand for 2020.

with AAP