A LEADING player agent has claimed Super League’s salary cap is to blame for the World Club Series humiliation and warned the cream of talent will continue to migrate to Australia unless changes are made.
Craig Harrison, a former owner of Doncaster who has 72 players on his books including 22 internationals, wants the Rugby Football League and Super League clubs to take action to stop the rot after watching NRL clubs run riot in the Dacia World Club Series.
An aggregate score of 118-28 in favour of the NRL over the three matches at the weekend illustrated the yawning chasm that still exists between England and Australia.
The cap in Super League, which has seen only incremental increases since its introduction in 1999, currently stands at £1.85million, around half of the NRL’s 7.5million Australian dollars (£3.8million).
“I’d say 99 per cent of it is down to the salary cap, plus the weather,” Harrison said. “I watched some skill sessions earlier in the year and they had to be stopped because of the weather.
“At the time it was 90 degrees in Australia. The facilities over there are ridiculous compared to what our lads have to deal with. Only Warrington have an indoor skills facility.”
A host of England internationals, including the Burgess brothers, James Graham, Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead, have left Super League to ply their trade in the NRL and Harrison says more will follow unless the wage ceiling is lifted.
“It won’t be a lot but it will be the elite, the X-factor players like Ben Currie and Zak Hardaker,” Harrison said. “They will have to go eventually because it’s impossible to keep a player on £130,000 or £140,000 a year when he can earn £600,000 or £700,000 in Australia.
“And we can’t attract the calibre of player like Ali Lauitiiti and Brent Webb any more, there’s no chance of bringing a Kevin Iro over here.
“When we were strong, when Wigan and Ellery (Hanley) ruled the world, they had Dean Bell and other top-quality international players boosting that squad.”
Super League general manager Blake Solly defended the role of the governing body, saying: “It’s a matter for both the clubs and for Super League to decide whether that cap goes up, it’s not the RFL just saying it goes up or it goes down, it’s a joint decision.
“And the whole idea of the marquee player rule was to allow clubs to go and get those players or keep them. So I’m not sure what more the sport could have done to actually allow clubs to go out and get marquee players.”
With the exception of Wigan, who used the new rule to accommodate the return of Sam Tomkins, clubs have ignored the chance to sign a marquee player and Harrison says the explanation is simple.
“They’re all scared to use it,” he said. “If Leeds signed Greg Inglis on half a million, Kallum Watkins is going to resign and go to Australia.”
As Solly prepares to press ahead with further plans to expand the World Club Series, Harrison has his own idea of how to make the tournament more competitive.
“My suggestion would be to play the bottom four of the NRL, that would be more of a leveller,” he said. “We shouldn’t expose ourselves until we’ve got enough quality.
“If we play their bottom four, we know where we are then. That would be a good marker. It’s not the same playing field our champions playing their champions, although if Danny McGuire had been fit for Leeds, I think you would have seen a right game.”