Each week, ESPN's NRL experts Darren Arthur and Christian D'Aloia take on the burning issues in the game.
Should player salaries be available to the public?
Darren: Some will say that what a person earns is no one else's business and NRL players have every right to keep their salaries a secret from the public. The problem is, their salaries form part of a puzzle on which the credibility of the NRL competition ultimately rests. NRL clubs must build their rosters within the parameters of a salary cap. It is designed to ensure that the richest clubs don't corner the market on the best talent through sheer buying power. The fans pay those salaries, through ticket and merchandise sales, broadcast subscriptions and advertising returns. Whether it is true or not, the perception among fans is that clubs are not actually playing by the rules. The NRL's salary cap policing has been a bit of a joke with the majority of cheats only caught following reports from whistle-blowers, usually disgruntled former employees. If you make the salaries public knowledge, then the fans see exactly how the Roosters can afford to add Sonny Bill Williams to their all-conquering line-up.
Christian: This is a move the NRL has needed to make for a long time, in my opinion. There is so much disinformation about player salaries in the game at the moment, with different journalists coming up with different salary numbers each week. It leads to countless arguments and accusations of salary cap cheating among NRL communities. Surely it is easier for every party to just end the conspiracy theories and simply make player earnings public. It's also not as if anyone is under any illusions as to who the highest earners in the game are - they are not going to be treated any differently by their peers - but publicised salaries will end the incessant speculation about the exact figures and potential salary cap rortings. For what it's worth, I don't buy into the notion that any modern day club, the Roosters included, are cheating the salary cap. As frustrating as it is to see one club pick up star player after star player, I think the club has simply excellent salary cap management structures in place and players would undoubtedly be taking a pay cut to join a club that is a consistent premiership threat. In 2020, when every move is put under the microscope, I can't imagine a club's illegal deals not leaking out to the media by now.
Is David Fifita a good signing for the Titans?
Darren: Fifita is a very good player, capable of freakish performances in what has been a relatively short time in the NRL. Regardless of what he goes on to achieve long-term, the fact that he won't be doing it for the Broncos is a win for the Titans in itself. If he fulfils his potential, he will definitely lift the Titans and attract other quality players to the club. The main concern is that the Titans might have thrown too much money at him, to the detriment of the rest of their roster. The club sees Fifita as the foundation stone to a complete rebuild, already sending Ryan James, Bryce Cartwright and Shannon Boyd on their way, while signing Fifita, Herman Ese'ese and Tino Faasuamaleaui. Time will tell if the Titans have made the right move, but it definitely beats remaining stagnant in a very difficult geographical market.
Christian: For the Titans, this is an excellent recruitment decision. For any other club - other than perhaps the Bulldogs - it would spell disaster and severe salary cap imbalance for the future. A poorly balanced salary cap is the least of the Titans' concerns; their main priority has to be rising from the depths of the ladder and hanging around long enough to play finals football. Fifita's signature takes them significantly closer to that goal, as does the offloads of the ineffective trio James, Cartwright and Boyd. With Ese'ese and Faasuamaleaui in tow, Mal Meninga has had himself a week he can hang his hat on. There is finally a buzz on the Gold Coast - something that's been missing since Daly Cherry-Evans backflipped on the club so many years ago - and other players are noticing. They will want to play with, or behind, a dominant forward pack. That pack will also allow coach Justin Holbrook to assess his backs and playmakers and deem whether they are capable of delivering the club a finals berth in the future. Things are looking up.
How does the NRL fix the bunker?
Darren: That's the $3.2 million question really. The NRL paid a lot of money to set this system up ($3.2 million) and the ongoing costs are making a real dent in the league's bottom line, particularly in these tough financial times. If it wiped glaring errors from the game, then it would have been worth every cent. But, as we've seen since its introduction, bunker decisions still require a human input and humans are prone to human error. There are way too many careers on the line in NRL for these mistakes to continue. The bunker has been criticized for slowing the game down too much, but they can't be rushing calls and getting them wrong. Could we have three sets of eyes in the bunker with a majority vote on each decision? Surely two out of three people couldn't get it so wrong.
Christian: I'm not sure there's much we can do to 'fix' the Bunker. Put plainly, we will never have an NRL competition where no refereeing mistakes are made. We will always need a human to make the decisions and therefore there will always be errors. Since the inception of the Bunker, there have certainly been fewer errors with decisions made far quicker than with the previous iteration of the 'third referee'. There is no doubt that speed is taken into account when a decision is made, and that is clearly where things went wrong in that blunder during the Sharks and Dragons clash. It's an understandable human error and one that I and many others did not notice upon the first few viewings of the 'try'. People will complain when the Bunker takes too long, and people will complain when they get it wrong because they didn't look for long enough. It's difficult to strike a balance.