Rugby League Players Association (RLPA) has announced that players in the NRL are prepared to boycott game-day media commitments for an extended period of time. The decision comes as part of the RLPA‘s efforts to push for a resolution in the ongoing collective bargaining agreement talks with the league’s governing body. The RLPA held an emergency press conference to reveal their media strike, stating that players will refuse to participate in post-match press conferences from round 19 onwards. This includes not engaging in pre-match, half-time, or post-match interviews, and ignoring calls from journalists on game days. The strike will remain in effect until a draft CBA is completed, a meeting is held with an industrial relations mediator, and player benefits and support payments are restored to pre-COVID levels.
While players will be absent from media interactions, coaches are still expected to fulfill their obligations to the press. The NRL expressed disappointment with the RLPA‘s decision, particularly due to the impact it will have on fans. NRL Chief Executive Andrew Abdo acknowledged the role of the media in bringing the game and its players to the fans. He stated that the NRL had invested extensive effort into negotiations and problem-solving in an attempt to reach a deal with the players.
The RLPA‘s decision to strike follows a meeting of over 50 players from the 17 clubs, who discussed the delayed CBA, which is now eight months overdue. Clint Newton, the RLPA‘s CEO, revealed that players were willing to take further action if their demands were not met. He emphasised that the decision was player-led and that they remained hopeful and optimistic about reaching an agreement. The negotiations for the new CBA have been ongoing for 20 months, and the current agreement can only be extended until October 31 of this year.
The RLPA had initially aimed to finalize the agreement with the NRL by the end of May after presenting a settlement proposal in the middle of that month. However, talks hit an impasse when disagreements arose over various items in the CBA. The RLPA believes that the NRL has given them a “take it or leave it” ultimatum regarding proposed amendments to the settlement proposal. The RLPA clarified that it has not requested any additional funds since December last year, but alleges that the NRL wants control over how the players’ share of revenue is allocated to RLPA programs, such as the medical support fund and injury hardship fund. The RLPA also alleges that the NRL is seeking ownership and access to player data, including medical information, as well as the ability to introduce more games without approval from the RLPA.
Confidentially, NRL officials feel that they have been willing to meet the RLPA‘s demands and have conducted themselves in good faith during the lengthy discussions. Both Andrew Abdo and Australian Rugby League Commission Chairman Peter V’landys have refrained from engaging in a public war-of-words with the RLPA.
Despite the media blackout, South Sydney prop Thomas Burgess, who is a member of the RLPA player advisory group, expressed confidence that fans would still feel connected to the players. Burgess assured fans that players remain active on social media, and highlighted that Souths has taken games to various locations, demonstrating their commitment to engaging with fans. He expressed a desire for a deal to be reached and for things to return to normal, but maintained that the players felt cornered into taking this action.