Former Super League and NRL player Clint Newton believes that the time has come for UK and European players to stop talking about a players’ association and actually get on with forming one.
While some attempts have been made in recent seasons to upgrade the quality of player union representation in the UK, they have faltered, largely through it seems a lack of enthusiasm from players.
Newton, who is the chair and general president of the NRL’s Rugby League Players Association (RLPA), has challenged players in the northern hemisphere to change the situation for the better themselves.
“I’m happy to fire a shot across the players’ bows,” he told Love Rugby League.
“There has to be some leadership shown from a number of the senior players over here.
“I know Jon Wilkin’s tried to get it up and going, but whether he was a lone soldier in that battle or not, I just think the players need to break out of what they’ve been conditioned to do for a number of years – and that’s just look after themselves.
“Because you’ll go a lot further if you work together, but it’s going to need some of the senior players to stand up and say, ‘Listen. We’re going to get right behind this and lead from the front.’
“As they have done in Australia, with Cameron Smith, Jonathan Thurston and those sort of guys, that are hugely supportive of the RLPA.
“It’s crucial. Whilst they don’t work together, and they don’t look after each other, they’ll continue to be players that are just here, rather than someone who is genuinely invested in the game and has a genuine partnership with the administration.”
Newton acknowledges that the NRL is very different to the Super League in how players show solidarity for each other, and work with the governing body to achieve progress.
“I think where you differ [from the NRL] is in the total lack of having a partnership,” he said.
“That’s certainly something we’ve certainly worked hard on with the NRL.
“To the NRL’s credit, they’ve achieved some really positive things in recent years, just through working collaboratively with the RLPA.
“There’s a misconception amongst leading organisations in the sporting industry that having an association, what some call a union in some aspects, is a bad thing.
“But it’s proven that codes with strong associations actually help increase the productivity of the sport, and its ability to continually move forward.
“It’s through an association that you’ve got a voice for the game’s greatest asset, which is the players.
“You’re giving them an opportunity to have a voice, and have a say in the game.
“It’s somewhat like the difference between owning your house and renting your house.
“You’re either all in, and you start to look after the place where you spend most time; or you rent it, and you’re there, but you don’t really care.
“There’s a lot of self-interest involved and that can be really damaging to the game.”
Five-day turnarounds between games have been reduced this season in the NRL, as one example of the kind of thing which the RLPA has achieved by working alongside the NRL.
Leave arrangements, player wellbeing and education are other areas in which the RLPA has achieved positive things.
Clinton believes that the value of such an organisation is huge, especially long-term, and that money would be well spent on it.
“It’s not about losing power and control,” he added.
“It’s about working together to grow the game and create a better game, and one that’s got a better opportunity to attract and retain the best talent.
“Right now, they’re failing at that.”