NRL 2023: Five off-pitch problems facing the league and its bosses this season | NRL

With a new team in the mix and a new player-official deal on the table, the NRL should be flying towards 2023. But for all the blue skies, big storms are brewing.


The player hits. Sponsor boycotts. Launches cancelled. This hot, unholy mess wasn’t the track rugby league necessary for a strong start to the 2023 season.

Only now, after months of clashes and threats, and with only days to go until the first round begins, do the NRL and Rugby League Players Association finally appear to have brokered a peace deal.

A new five-year, $1.347 billion collective bargaining agreement will be signed in a few days. Not a minute too soon for the 68% of club bosses unhappy with how long the NRL has taken to do it.

The CBA means higher wages and better health protection for NRL and NRLW players, RLPA autonomy over how injured/retired player funds are managed and an end to players signing with rival teams with one year of anticipation (in the style of Dom Young and Stephen Crichton recently).

Does it mean more funding for grassroots growth in the jungle, interstate, or for young women? We’ll see. At least the fans won’t be hearing much more about the CBA and can focus on soccer.


For the first time in 16 years, the NRL has a new team: the Dolphins, based in Redcliffe, a Brisbane suburb, and led by seven-time first-place winner Wayne Bennett.

Wayne Bennett during a practice session for the Dolphins in February. Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Despite controversially omitting a home base in their name, the Dolphins hope to lure football-mad fans from the 500km belt north of Brisbane to Rockhampton. Easier said than done. The Gold Coast Titans, introduced in 2007 to a similarly league-loving region, have the lowest membership in the NRL, having reached the final just four times in 16 seasons.

Did the NRL make the right decision with a fourth club from Queensland (rejected offers from Brisbane, Western Australia and Central Coast NSW)? And if not, can he hold his nerve long enough to turn the Dolphins into another Melbourne Storm (introduced in 1998 and boasting four premierships and over 40,000 members after 25 years in the NRL)?


The appointment of Eddie Jones as Wallabies manager is bad news for the NRL. When Jones led the Wallabies to the World Cup final in 2003, four league greats were on the team: Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuquiri, Mat Rogers and Andrew Walker.

And within weeks of taking the reins again, “Fast Eddie” was planning further forays into the NRL ahead of the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia. So far, Jones’ blacklist includes schoolboy union stars Joseph Suaalii (Roosters), Will Penisini (Eels), Tolu Koula (Sea Eagles), Nelson Asofa-Solomona (Storm) and Cameron Murray (Rabbitohs).

With sponsors swarming for the 15-man code for the 2023 World Cup and the 2025 British and Irish Lions tour, Jones’ war chest is growing rapidly. And if the Wallabies start winning again under his reign, the challenge of a code jump and the World Cup in front of the home fans becomes very lucrative for any NRL player unhappy with the way the game is run. rugby league.

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It’s the issue that imploded Manly’s 2022 season and saw their manager Des Hasler scrapped. And the saga, like the rainbow itself, is never ending for the NRL. Last week, an anonymous poll of NRL bosses found that 82% did not support a round of Pride, 57% were reluctant to introduce a Pride shirt to their clubs and just 38% were open to a Pride shirt. Pride, but only with player approval.

The Manly Pride jersey that generated so much controversy.
The Manly Pride jersey that generated so much controversy. Photograph: SUPPLIED PICTURE/PR

It drew condemnation both in and out of the game. “What are we afraid of?” asked Cronulla star Toby Rudolf, who last year spoke openly about his own same-sex experiences. The A-League and NBL have official Pride rounds and the Sydney Swans have played a Pride game every year since 2015, all while wearing rainbows and preaching inclusion. However, clearly still smarting from the religiously motivated seven-player boycott in Manly last year, the NRL has cautiously launched a ’round of respect’ compromise that many clubs have put in the basket too hard to buy.


They were the league bosses who steered the NRL through the Covid storm to worldwide praise. But the honeymoon is over for NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo and ARL Commission Chairman Peter V’landys with league leaders at record levels of disapproval with club bosses. .

Not only did the CBA negotiations turn nasty and take too long, but the integrity of the NRL suffered a major blow when it was alleged that an employee was secretly recording the NRL’s negotiations with the RLPA. Worse yet, the Sydney Morning Herald poll also found that 36% of club bosses feel “unsupported” by the NRL (more than double the number in 2021) with more than half of them believing the NRL is He played when the New South Wales government turned the tables on its $800 million Pledge to rebuild Brookvale Oval, Penrith Stadium, Shark Park and Leichhardt Oval.

That heart wound was further compounded when the NRL backtracked on threats to take over the 2022 interstate grand final, signing a last-minute deal to keep it in NSW. But in which stadium and in which state will the biggest game in the NRL be played in 2023? Your guess is as good as ours.

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