Gallen’s visit to the Waratahs’ Daceyville demountables came at a sensitive time for the 15-player code. After two months of substantial pay cuts the NSW players and all their interstate counterparts were being asked to agree to reduced wages for the rest of the year.
Rugby Australia’s proposal was to ease the current, six-month 60 per cent pay cut to 40 per cent from October to December. The players thought it was unfair relative to some RA staff returning to 95 per cent of their salaries in the same period, while senior executives remained on 70 per cent of theirs.
This is not one party accumulating wealth and the other one eroding it, there’s just no money.
NSW chairman Roger Davis
On the same day that rugby’s loyal partner Qantas announced it would cut 6000 jobs, a long meeting between the players’ union and Rugby Australia broke up without resolution.
There were hopes RA’s decision to open the books to RUPA would ease players’ fears the governing body was keeping some money back for other purposes. The organisation feels it has made savage cuts to its administrative workforce and will only just cover costs with the $8-$9million broadcast deal it struck with Foxtel for what rugby it can cobble together to see out the year.
As NSW chairman Roger Davis said on Thursday: “This is not one party accumulating wealth and the other one eroding it, there’s just no money”.
From the players’ perspective, a payroll quirk saw all the Super Rugby sides pay out full wages in April, meaning the agreed six-month 60 per cent pay cut has actually equated to 72 per cent over the five months to the end of September.
Players put up and shut up while they were on stand-down but now that fulltime duties have restarted and Super Rugby AU starts next week, running households and families on 28 per cent of their regular income until October is starting to bite.
“From my perspective and just from my understanding of what’s happening, each one of us – bar a couple of guys – signed on to a substantial pay cut for the survival of the game, which we all felt was the right thing to do,” Hunt said.
“Now we’ve got a new competition starting and thought that now was the time for a fresh negotiation moving into the next period. We as a group thought we could do a little better than what was proposed. I think Rugby Australia have recognised that and hopefully they come back to us with a better proposal in the next couple of days.”
Certainly it appears interim RA boss Rob Clarke did not make the same mistake as his predecessor Raelene Castle, who drained her remaining quota of goodwill in the first pay deal with a standoff over what financial information the players were entitled to scrutinise. It’s believed both parties have had full access to rugby’s budgetary dirty laundry.
Talk around the Super Rugby sides suggested the strike threat was overblown and partly triggered by the Rebels’ sudden announcement they would re-locate to Canberra as Victoria’s COVID-19 spike threatened interstate travel. Anxious players, already coping with financial stress and uncertainty, will their families on Friday to ensure the opening round of the competition can go ahead.
Gallen’s visit and reflections on the cauldron of interstate rivalry might have helped quiet the horses in Waratahs camp. Hunt said the youngsters drank in every word. The senior players might have been reminded of simpler times.
“If you get lost too much in the unknown about things that haven’t occurred yet, anxiety can come at any moment,” he said.
“But when it is your livelihood and you’re at a stage in life when you’ve got kids to look after and bils to pay, the pressure comes on. Not knowing where the game is heading is hard.
“I don’t have a contract here at the Tahs for next year but all I’m thinking about is getting back on the park and playing rugby to better my chances of being around here next year.”
Georgina Robinson is the chief rugby reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.