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NRL faces challenge in defining a star

The first test for the NRL's lauded new approach to keeping superstars in the game will be how to define a superstar.
NRL faces challenge in defining a star
by AAP

By Ben Horne

SYDNEY, May 8 AAP - The first test for the NRL's lauded new approach to keeping superstars in the game will be how to define a superstar.

In a potentially landmark breakthrough for the code, chief executive Dave Smith now has the power to compete with rival codes to recruit or retain players in "exceptional circumstances".

Chief operating officer Jim Doyle has said this discretionary power will be applied to special talents who come around "once in every 10 years".

Names such as Israel Folau, Sonny Bill Williams and Greg Inglis undoubtedly fit the bill as superstar athletes, but with scores of elite players featuring in the NRL, clubs, agents and stars will be eager to test where Smith will draw the line.

For example, Andrew Fifita - a Test and Origin standard prop, but not someone quite in the exclusive company of Williams and Inglis - was recently head-hunted by Australian Rugby Union.

Dual international Mat Rogers praised the NRL for its initiative, saying had such a mechanism existed when he defected to rugby union in 2002, he would have likely stayed with his beloved Cronulla.

However, Rogers has called on the NRL not to simply focus on the out-and-out superstars but also lock down other State of Origin and Test players who might cross codes.

"I think they're probably the ones that are most at risk of leaving the game," Rogers told AAP.

"A Sonny Bill could go to Europe and write his ticket. Greg Inglis and JT (Johnathan Thurston) could probably do the same.

"It's those players that are just below that level, that can get offered big money overseas but probably aren't making the same sort of money as the JTs and GIs here in league.

"But it's where do you draw the line?"

Rogers slammed rugby's current product as "awful" and believed the NRL was in a powerful position to retain and recruit football's best talent.

"You've got to keep the game growing and flourishing and make it attractive for players to want to stay in it. And I think the package at the moment is looking great," he said.

"I've got to say I think rugby union looks awful at the moment so if anybody did want to leave, it probably would be for money."

Rogers warned that money-hungry player agents could also be big winners from the marquee salary cap measures, bringing the potential for artificial bidding wars as managers looked to bump up the price tag for their clients.

However, the NRL is confident that won't be a problem.

It says it's reserving the mechanism for "exceptional circumstances" and say clubs first need to show they can offer a market-value contract for a player before Smith and the NRL decide whether to kick in the extra cash.

Canterbury captain Michael Ennis also welcomed the significant salary cap changes, but says he's interested to see how the NRL differentiates a once-in-every-10-years player from a regulation star.

"I think it'll be a test. We'll all see in time," Ennis said.




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