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Explained: The numbers and nuances of the NRL’s updated 2024 salary cap

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NRL salary cap, 2024 explained

The myth known as the NRL salary cap, hey?

Correctly managed and it positions you as a perennial finals side or title threat. Breached, and it’s game over.

Well in 2024, the system has been slightly renovated.

Last season, a longstanding dispute between the NRL and the Rugby League Players Association (RLPA) concluded when the pair agreed on the game’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA). A deal meant players returned to media duties, boycott threats were quashed and fans and administrators could breathe relievedly.

In sports from other corners around the globe, CBA negotiations have shut down seasons for lengthy periods; just ask the NBA about 2011 and 1998-99 or the NFL about 1987. It’s happened in Major League Baseball as well. Tensions are always high when finances are involved and Clint Newton and the RLPA’s determination ensured the players’ best interests were achieved and the game’s short-term financial future was set in concrete.

As is to be expected in such matters, the newly agreed CBA has altered the salary cap and certain provisions must be adhered to. It can all get a bit confusing, we know.

nrl, jarome luai
Jarome Luai’s move to the Wests Tigers was negotiated under the updated salary cap provisions

What is the NRL salary cap?

Essentially, the cap serves two purposes; to equalise talent and prevent clubs from overstretching their expenditure while competing as best they can.

Spending on players is the club’s biggest expense. A salary cap provides the limits and provisions clubs must operate within when constructing their squad, restricting teams from spending more than they can afford, which is a major issue in many global sports. Football in particular sees many clubs either entering administration or receiving punishment from their respective league for spending beyond their means and failing to comply with strict financial regulations in play.

A salary cap also ensures talent can spread throughout the competition. In other comps, like the Premier League, where richer clubs, like Manchester City, can acquire clubs from smaller clubs and stockpile them, thus reducing the strength of their competition.

The NRL limits this occurring as best as possible without eliminating it, with severe punishments dished out for sides found to have breached the cap such as the Melbourne Storm and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.

How does it look for 2024 and beyond?

As a result of the new CBA, some significant changes to the salary cap will come into effect from the start of the 2024 season through to the expiration of the current deal in 2027.

After sitting at $11.05 million during the 2023 season, 2024 will see the salary cap rise to $11.25 million, meaning clubs are afforded some extra cash to spend on new signings. In 2025, that figure rises to $114 million, before hitting $11.55 million in 2026 and $11.7 million in the deal’s final year.

Essentially, clubs have more money to spend on players, both through renewals and new acquisitions and given the way the recent shift in the NRL player market has resulted in many players being able to demand more than $1 million, every cent is necessary to construct the strongest squad.

It’s not just the game’s highest earners benefitting from the amended cap. At the bottom end of the player salary spectrum, the minimum wage in the competition will rise to $130,000, including super, before increasing incrementally to $145,000 in 2027.

On top of this, clubs have $100,000 in motor vehicle allowance, which can be offered five times at a maximum value of $20,000, as well as $300,000 allocated to a veteran/developed player fund.

What constitutes are veteran player? They must spend a minimum of nine years at a club, while developed players are those contracted to a club for two or more years before signing their top 30 contracts.

Clubs must spend also 97.5% of their cap and have 24 top 30 players signed by 5 pm on November 1. On the Monday prior to round 1 of the NRL season, clubs must have 28 top 30 players signed and by the June 30 mid-season transfer cut-off, their squad has to be full.

In addition, players aged 17 can be promoted to a club’s top 30 squad, although they remain unable to play first grade until they’re 18. However, it remains to be seen if the NRL will make exemptions for certain players aged 18 or under, as they did to facilitate the debut of Sydney Roosters flyer Joseph Sua’ali’i in 2021.

Are there any changes to development contracts?

Where in previous years, development contracted players were unable to feature in first grade before Round 11. But the new salary cap means they’ll be able to feature from the first game of the year.

How? Well, guys previously referred to as development contract players are now labelled members of an NRL club’s ‘supplementary list’ of players, which must comprise at least four players and no more than six, with a cap valued at $650,000 allocated toward this list. Supplementary list players are paid $80,000, with a $3,000 bonus for each first grade match, and, crucially, they’re able to play from round 1.

For example, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs have six players on their supplementary list; Bayley Hayward, Joseph O’Neill, Joash Papalii, Kurtis Morrin, Mitchell Woods and Poasa FaamausiliI. In previous years, these players wouldn’t have player NRL until at least Round 11. In 2024, they can feature from the jump.

NRL Grand Final 2023, NRLW Grand Final 2023
Premiers.

On top of these changes, developed players, or club juniors, cannot be signed before round 6 of a player’s final contract year. According to the CBA, a developed player is defined as a player contracted for at least two years in junior grades and played less than six NRL or State Cup matches.

This is to help development clubs retain players and give them more time to assess players and mitigate the risk of other clubs’ poaching certain clubs’ young talent, with the Canberra Raiders and North Queensland Cowboys two of this change’s greatest supporters.

One last thing, train and trial contracts will rise to $1,200 per week, with a $3,000 bonus awarded for any first-grade appearances, though they can only feature from round 11 onwards.

Kyle Robbins
Kyle Robbins
Kyle is a senior sports writer and producer at Only Sports who lives and breathes sport, with a particular burning passion for everything soccer, rugby league, and cricket. You’ll most commonly find him getting overly hopeful about the Bulldogs and Chelsea’s prospects. Find Kyle on LinkedIn.

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