Clubs in the NRL have set their sights on Super League's top talent
The NRL is an attractive option for an Englishman, but can Super League cope with a mass exodus?
By Luke Dorn
Last Updated: 03/05/13 7:00pm
The financial benefits are there for players, as well as the opportunity to play in a different competition that is substantially higher in its profile than the equivalent in England and Europe. That is a huge draw for any player.
Yet while it is perhaps no shock to see Super League's stars being targeted, I'm surprised to see NRL clubs aim to pick up players who may not be the names expected. Don't see that as a slight on those being signed either, just that it's a new trend we have seen develop of late, and I think we're going to see this happen more and more often in the coming years.
Those perhaps halfway down the list of players in a team's Super League squad are the ones on their radar, because these are the guys they can bring in that make most financial sense.
They are making £20-30,000 here in the domestic competition, whereas the minimum salary in the NRL is $75,000. Then there are also individual sponsorships to take into account, so it's a big move for any player.
We've got some great prospects in the UK, and NRL teams can take something of a punt to bring them in having seen them display their talents in what is a tough competition.
They are seeing these guys play in Super League and realising that it's not going to be too much of a challenge in terms of the physical side of things to ply their trade in the NRL. They will then be hoping that the quality of coaching they can provide, and being in their set-up on a permanent basis, can improve the quality of these players.
George Burgess did just that. He went out there to have a go and test himself, perhaps looking to come through the grades. Now he's probably one of the form props in the NRL, which is no mean feat considering the standard of competition in that position.
For him to go out there and dominate is a big plus for the Super League in one way, but it also means there could be plenty more trying to follow the same path in the future.
That is a concern for the domestic game here. I believe after confirming Gareth Hock and Lee Mossop were joining the Eels, Wigan said that it would be a great opportunity for players from their club to go over there, and then come back to them as better players. But the way it's going, I'm not sure if a youngster is going to go to the NRL, then come back a few years later and think that their career is still on the upward curve.
This should be a worry for the RFL - it was at one stage rugby union that was the main concern for signing league players, but now it is without doubt the NRL.
Half the English national side could end up in Australia, meaning they're no longer playing in the country they represent.
What should worry them the most, though, is I'm not sure there's anything that can be done about it. They should've seen this coming, because the warning signs have been there.
A solution would have been to expand the salary cap, as I've spoken about before in this blog. Yet that means the gap between the 'haves' and 'have nots' would just get bigger.
And could any club really afford to be paying out £3 million without the aid of some serious financial backing? We get solid crowds, but we don't sell out 30 or 40,000 seats for each match here.
And how can even Wigan, for instance, compete with Sam Tomkins being offered $1 million to go to Australia? To match that, particularly considering the current exchange rate, would mean a great chunk of their salary cap was eaten up by one player, albeit a fantastic one.
While players have gone to ply their trade in Australia before, I feel it is another Burgess, Sam, who paved the way for what is happening now to some degree. He has become a face of the NRL. He's everywhere, the fans love him and his style of play suits the game so well. The attraction must be there for all these young Englishmen to go and try and emulate that.
He was undoubtedly a very good player when he left Bradford, but now he is phenomenal. That is down to the development his game has enjoyed from being in an NRL environment.
Even if any player does go out there and feature and plays in just a handful of first-grade games, they could return home and demand more money than they were earning previously in Super League. It's a win-win situation, surely?
The one positive for England could be that it actually aids the national team.
English players are going to be in the NRL playing with and against Australian and New Zealand internationals. They will become accustomed to the style and speed of the game and surely become better players for the experience.
Can even the best Super League sides afford for this to keep happening, though? You can have the best youth development in the world, but if a glut of players go quickly then no team can handle it.
You can follow Luke on Twitter @lukedorn