LEAGUE players won't have to wait much longer to be included among the nation's richest sports stars despite missing out on a spot in this year's BRW top 50 sports earners list, Rugby League Players' Association boss David Garnsey says.
A few eyebrows were raised when the likes of Greg Inglis, Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston were not among the top earners in Australia, with the final spots on the list taken up by $1.2 million earners including Daniel Christian, Chris Judd and Peter Senior.
International stars Andrew Bogut ($13.5 million), Mark Webber ($12 million), Adam Scott ($10.5 million) and Casey Stoner ($8 million) topped the list while three AFL players Gary Ablett ($2 million), Tom Scully ($1.8 million) and Chris Judd ($1.2 million) trumped their rugby league counterparts, who are handicapped by a heavily scrutinised salary cap and third-party payment limits.
But with Thurston off-contract at the end of next year, and with Inglis inking a million-dollar deal with South Sydney, NRL players are likely to join the sporting elite.
A new $1 billion television rights deal and a rise in the salary cap to $5.8 million next year has Garnsey hopeful his men will be added to the list. ''I'm not surprised there are no players on the list,'' Garnsey said.
''[But] as a consequence of the broadcast rights, rugby league is now in a much healthier financial state. That, together with the expected growth of the game under the Australian Rugby League Commission's strategic plan should ensure that the cap continues to rise, that representative payments continue to increase and should indeed result in rugby league players appearing in the top 50 in the future.''
With a minimum-wage increase to $80,000 a year, Garnsey said players in the bottom tier would fare well, comparatively. Where rugby league players lag behind other codes is in a lack of global appeal.
The brand and its players are considered a hard sell according to the national commercial manager at Australian Baseball League, Gaby Anger.
Anger said rugby league barely made a ripple on the international scene. ''League doesn't mean too much outside Australia and New Zealand. The biggest thing overseas markets understand is what endorsements are all about and how they can utilise sports as a marketing initiative, where in Australia it's about educating the corporate market. You can't compare markets because our population is so small.''
The rise of the Indian Premier League has helped boost cricket's numbers with nine players including Michael Clarke ($5.5 million), Shane Watson ($4.5 million) and Ricky Ponting ($3.5 million) all leading the charge. Retired rugby league international Luke Priddis said the price wars were never something players talked about.
''I never really looked at it and it didn't really influence what I was earning,'' Priddis said. ''I think you might see a league player sneak into that list in the next year or so. With the salary cap you can't afford to spend one quarter of that on just one player.''
The former international, who retired at the end of 2010, has successfully moved into the professional working environment as a director of Sutherland Shire-based financial planning company CPR Wealth. He said there had been a slow evolution during his 14-year career, and that players were planning for the future.
''A majority of the young blokes goals is to play first grade,'' Priddis said. ''Their goal isn't to do business studies and that will be the hard thing.
''As the game gets more money into it, I think there needs to be something done a little better to help the juniors amount to much more, especially when their chances of playing first grade are very slim.''
The story NRL stars still behind on rich list, but not for long first appeared on Brisbane Times.