The National Rugby League's salary cap has come under scrutiny over the
past week, but it must remain in place for the sake of the competition.
Billy Slater, Brett Finch and Cameron Smith are all part of Melbourne Storm's real-life dream team [GETTY]
The English Premier League is an exciting product on the pitch, but as a competition it is one of the most boring in the world.
Twenty teams contest the Premier League each season, but since 1995 only three clubs have won the title - Manchester United (nine times), Arsenal (three times) and Chelsea (twice). The Blues look likely to win the league again this season, with United once again the only threat.
Add Liverpool to the equation, and the "Big Four" clubs have dominated the Premier League for more than a decade, filling the top four places with mundane regularity. What must it be like for fans of the other 16 clubs in the league, having little chance of premiership glory year after year?
In contrast, the NRL – a competition started in 1998 after the Super League splinter, has had eight different clubs win the premiership in its 12-season history. In light of the recent stripping of Melbourne's 2007 and 2009 titles, you could argue that there may have been nine different champions in 12 years.
The Premier League has no salary cap. Clubs can buy any available player for any price. Sure, it takes more than just expensive players to win a title, but history shows the "Big Four" keep winning and constantly qualifying for the lucrative UEFA Champions League. The rich get richer, players receive outrageously high wages and there is no regulation in place to stop it.
The NRL imposes a salary cap on its clubs of $4.1 million per season to contract a squad of 25 players. This means clubs can afford to have some star players but must forgo others, thus promoting parity between teams and an even competition. Player salaries can not spiral out of control and all clubs, on their payroll bottom lines at least, should be equal.
A downside of the salary cap is that NRL players can be lured overseas or to other codes to play for more money. The English Super League, which also operates with a salary cap, is rife with ex-NRL players. Ex-Broncos star Karmichael Hunt is the big name player on the roster of AFL's new Gold Coast team. And now the Melbourne Rebels rugby union franchise is set to swoop on disgruntled Storm players.
Frankly, if players want to leave the best rugby league competition in the world in search of more cash, then the game doesn't need them. The NRL, born from working class roots, will always be a tough, competitive league no matter which 26 players run out on to the field. It's the nature of the game.
There are arguments that the Storm "team of the decade" is what all NRL clubs should strive to emulate. It is a fantastic team to watch. Outstanding, in fact. The strength, pace and skills shown in the 40-6 thrashing of the Warriors last night are testament to this.
But it's a dream team that was created under false pretence playing in reality. The "team of the decade" cheated to win three minor premierships and two premierships. The "team of the decade" should never have been assembled to begin with.
Over the past few seasons Manly, St George-Illawarra and Parramatta have all displayed qualities close to the class of the fabricated Storm. The Bulldogs, Broncos, Titans and Cowboys have not been far behind. The Tigers, Panthers, Roosters, Raiders, Rabbitohs and Knights all provide entertaining and competitive footy.
All these teams have, as far as we know, remained under the salary cap.
Exciting footy can happen without superstar teams, and without superstar teams the competition becomes more even, with all teams having a realistic chance of taking the title.
The salary cap will always have its detractors, but you can't argue with the quality of the product on display and the closeness of competitions in recent years. Just ask anyone who is in an NRL tipping comp this season.
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