What the Salary Cap Means for the Milk


Like some jolly fat man spreading goodwill to all on the back of liquor and cookie diet, the National Rugby League finally delivered a present long waited on to the rugby league community generally, and specifically, the Canberra Raiders. It came in the form of a massive increase to the salary cap – from $9.6m to $11.45m, or somewhere near 18 per cent across the top 30. It’s good news for everyone, in particular the players, who have finally been repaid for their sacrifices of 2020. But it’s better news for the Milk.

Update: This premature announcement was a poor attempt at forming disunity in the Player’s Association (i.e. union busting). The Player’s association has now released a statement suggesting this deal is far from done and they sound unimpressed with the NRL for announcing these figures.

For starters, it means that the old ideas of a risky deal are changing. For years we’ve had a million dollars as an artificial barrier in our minds for the top-end of the pay bracket. Players like Daly Cherry-Evans, Ben Hunt and David Fifita got big pay days, but it brought with it an added scrutiny of a round figure that demanded performance beyond what was a reasonable expectation. That round number will be eclipsed more commonly going forward, and perhaps our expectations will mellow. This won’t impact the Raiders in the short-term, at some point a Raider will be on more than a million.

While one might think this would bring a whole bunch of teams back into the free agent race that had previously had filled their cap, it actually won’t have that much impact immediately. Most NRL contracts have a ratchet clause which ensures players with existing contracts are not left out when increases like come into play. As the NRL put it today

As a result of today’s announcement, players who have the standard form ratchet clause in their playing contract will receive an 18 per cent increase to their playing fee, with the increase to be effective from 1 November.


So teams that were maxed out will stay maxed out, as their players get a pay increase to match the salary cap. This ensures that NRL probably won’t see the ‘Kevin Durant’ debacle that plagued the NBA, play out in its competition. The only downside of this is the Milk don’t magically have new cash to retain players like Brad Schneider and Harley Smith-Shields.

But this is good news for the Milk in a couple of ways. Firstly, the 900k they have offered to David Fifita (or $2.7m over three years) suddenly feels like less of a risk. It goes from being about 9.4% of the total cap to being 7.9 per cent. Essentially 900k becomes the old 750k and maybe those worried about spending too much on the mercurial talents of Fifita feel a little bit better about life. For comparison he’s currently paid 12.5 per cent of the cap.

Secondly, despite the increase, and making the cost of potentially acquiring Fifita a little more bearable, the ratchet payments mean that there aren’t more busy-bodies poking their cash-filled pockets into the race. Essentially, the chase remains between the Milk and the Titans, and the only obstacle is decades of free-agent failure. That should mean the asking rate for Fifita doesn’t climb dramatically, and given his place on the negotiation committee, it’s likely Don Furner made the increased offer to Fifita with the impending increase in mind. Sweet as. It does mean Fifita may choose to wait and see what money is available when club’s have more cap space in 2024, but that option was always there. I’m not sure this alters the likelihood of that occurring (which, for the record, I still think is the most likely outcome) or how much he might earn (i.e 900k still feels like the most he’ll get, new cap or old).

The finalisation of this deal included a cap for the NRLW. This certainty of pay structures should allow Canberra to start signing players for next season (as opposed to the rumours of handshakes that have been doing the rounds). That’s great news for the Green Machine in their search to build a new team from scratch, and if players like Shaylee Bent are coming to town then the club will be able to start the process of building this side. Bent in particular is a stunning talent that would be a critical foundation stone of a new side, and comes with the side benefit of potentially also dragging her partner to the Raiders. We’ll also be excited to see what other talent the league can drag in from other elite sports that haven’t mustered the money or will for a professional women’s competition. There were rumours of the Milk dipping their toes in a range of ponds in order to get the best talent to the Raiders. The level and certainty of the NRLW cap will only help.

While agreement had been reached between the league and the player’s union on top-line wages, the Raiders will no doubt be watching the ongoing negotiations on conditions with great interest. There’s been no reporting as yet on things like the Veteran Allowance, which allowed an additional payment to players in the top 30 for 8 years and over. I’ve always assumed the deal the club made with Jarrod Croker provided ‘overs’ but only on the basis of taking up a portion of that money. With Josh Papalii, Jack Wighton, Elliott Whitehead and Joe Tapine either now eligible or soon to be eligible for that payment, the club will pay particular attention to the criteria and amount put aside for that.

It’s taken too long to finalise (yet another L for those claiming V’Landys as the god of administration), but I’m glad it’s sorted, and happy the players get some certainty in time for Christmas. It’s good news for everyone, including the Milk.

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