LEEDS RHINOS chief executive Gary Hetherington has told Salford Red Devils owner Marwan Koukash: “Now put your money where your mouth is.”
He was speaking after a majority of Super League clubs – eight versus four – voted to adopt a marquee-player rule from 2016.
Leeds favoured the amendment which means a marquee player will see only £100,000 if club-trained, or £175,000 if non-club trained, of his wages count on the £1.825m salary cap.
It can be used to not only attract high-calibre NRL players but prevent England’s best being lured to the more lucrative Australia or rugby union.
It is, though, the brainchild of Salford’s controversial multi-millionaire owner Koukash who has banged away hard to try force it through, finally doing so at the fourth attempt during yesterday’s Super League annual meeting.
Hetherington said: “The first thing that needs to be pointed out is that it’s not going to mark a mass exodus of superstars from the NRL to Super League. That’s not going to happen.
“It simply gives a club that is spending the full salary cap allowance – and that’s everyone apart from Wakefield – the opportunity to attract top-class players.
“Now, of course, the top NRL players are on $1m per year – or around half-a-million pounds – plus fees for State of Origin appearances and playing for Australia so Johnathan Thurston is not going to be dashing to Salford next season. If we offered Cooper Cronk £600,000 per year – more than a third of our salary cap – every year to play for Leeds, he’d ask why would he want to take a pay cut to come over here?
“But there is now a chance to bring quality players over who perhaps wouldn’t come otherwise.
“And it does give Salford and Marwan Koukash the opportunity to put his money where his mouth is.
“He’s talked about a big marquee signature which would be great for his club and the comp’ so we’re all looking forward with increasing interest now to the announcement of their superstar recruitment.
“Marwan promised to deliver that man. He talked about Sonny Bill Williams and talked about Billy Slater, players of that ilk. It will be great to see them in Super League.”
Under the terms of the amendment, the RFL say clubs will only be allowed to sign a marquee player if they meet clearly-defined affordability criteria based around their income and expenditure.
Regardless, Castleford Tigers chief executive Steve Gill is worried by the development.
“I understand its principle of being able to sign a top-class player and retain our best players,” he said, having voted against it with Wakefield, Hull FC and Huddersfield Giants.
“But what it has done is create the haves and have nots in the game again; the richer clubs will pull away once more after the cap and Sky money had brought us all closer together.
“It’s been the most competitive Super League I can remember. I want to watch it again as it’s not just the usual same four clubs winning everything.
“But all of a sudden I think we’ve had a knee-jerk re-action to what happened in the World Club Series when we lost all three games to the NRL and there’s been a feeling we need to bring top players over again.
“At Castleford, we’re looking at the long-term and investing in our own English talent coming through. I just hope other clubs’ fans aren’t left picking up the pieces if their owner decides to leave.”
Featherstone Rovers prop Paul Wood, meanwhile, has been banned for six games after his red card for gouging and headbutting Leigh Centurions hooker Bob Beswick.