John Grant after signing the new NRL broadcasting deal last year.
John Grant after signing the new NRL broadcasting deal last year. DAVID MOIR

Spare us another league war

RUGBY LEAGUE: Anyone who sat in a front-row seat during the Super League war, and is a strident fan of the game, does not even want to contemplate a return to the divisive days of the mid-'90s.

Super League may not have killed the game, but it caused irreparable damage. Lifelong friendships were ripped apart as an estimated $1 billion was squandered during what was effectively a tussle between two media organisations to gain pay TV supremacy.

Former staunch supporters no longer watch rugby league because of the damage caused by Super League. They were disenfranchised by many factors, but primarily the greed of those who were at the coalface and the flagrant waste of money.

Now, two decades later, it is ironically another billion-dollar media-related issue that is central to what looms as a second serious conflict.

This current bitter dispute, which has resulted in 15 of the 16 NRL club chairmen signing a vote of no confidence in ARL Commission boss John Grant, stems from the commission backflipping on a pledge to give the clubs a bigger slice of the game's money pie. That is the pie baked with the ingredients sourced from a massive media rights money windfall of $1.8 billion.

But the clubs say it was more than a pledge. A memorandum of understanding was formalised late last year that stated that club grants from 2018 onwards would be the value of the salary cap, plus an additional 30%.

Now the commission has reneged - or changed its mind. Other areas of the game are seen to have more urgent need of financial assistance than the clubs. The digital era, grassroots and development of the game are now viewed as more integral to the game than topping up the coffers of the NRL clubs, many of which spend well above their means.

A number of headstrong chairmen, who walked out of a meeting last week and refused to return, are making loud noises - even threats. In every sense of the word it is a revolt, and suggestions of a breakaway competition are being floated.

But even though that would be a last, drastic resort, the clubs are adamant they will not return to the fold while chairman Grant remains. And therein lies the road block.

Grant is just as unwavering in his decision to stay at the helm. After all, during his five-year reign the greatest gift rugby league has ever received - the $1.8 billion media rights contract - was negotiated.

My mail from a source inside this brouhaha is that something will have to give.

The show of unity by the 15 member clubs is no bluff. They believe - and rightly so - that a commitment has been made, and some have no doubt already spent the promised money.

The bottom line is that the clubs want that additional 30%. If not, they demand - at the very least - the head of John Grant.

Another meeting between the commission and the clubs is set down for this week. And while the result of that meeting won't determine if another breakaway competition is on the cards, it will be pivotal to the immediate future of the greatest game of all.


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