Dave Craven: Authorities must come clean over central contracts

On contract: England's Jonny Lomax.
On contract: England's Jonny Lomax.
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THE more I speak to club chief executives, coaches, agents, directors of rugby and players, the more it seems no-one really knows what is going on with the RFL’s central contracts idea.

Do not get me wrong, the governing body has to be praised for investing in the sport in this way, to the tune of what could easily be more than £500,000 over the next two years.

Rudimentary maths, then, tells you not every club will see a player receive a central contract. The irony is Warrington and Wigan are arguably the two clubs least in need of a £50,000 break.

Dave Craven

It has recognised clubs need greater powers to be able to keep hold of their best players against the threat of the NRL and rugby union and, with this helping hand, they are certainly doing their bit.

However, no-one is still sure if that is the aim.

Is it ‘central contracts’ or ‘ambassadorial payments’? St Helens inadvertently brought the subject into the public eye by revealing Jonny Lomax had signed a central contract with the RFL on top of his new deal with them.

That has not helped the RFL’s cause given they, perhaps naively, wanted to get all desired players signed up before revealing their names. However, Saints spoke of Lomax fulfilling “marketing and commercial opportunities” and being “not only a face of the club but the sport as a whole.”

So, was there actually an NRL approach for Lomax who, for all his obvious talent, has endured a wretched time with injuries, or do the RFL want him on board for his marketability quality?

Lomax is in the England EPS and played in last year’s Four Nations but, to many, it would be a surprise if he made Wayne Bennett’s squad for the World Cup ahead of Zak Hardaker and – though not in form – Sam Tomkins. Hardaker, it seems, is not in line for a central contract despite being one of Super League’s leading performers and playing for England against Samoa in May.

Some would argue he is unlikely to get one as, with the best will in the world, he is not an ideal “face” of the sport due to his at times chequered off-field past.

However, if these contracts are based on marketability then why – as the RFL have revealed is the case – is there any need for input from the England rugby league coaching team? It has to be one or the other.

They say full details of the process, the criteria for selection and those players who are centrally contracted will be announced in due course but it needs to be now to bring much-needed clarity to the messy situation.

It is understood Warrington Wolves have two players on the list and Wigan Warriors likewise yet there is supposed to be only around a dozen players in total.

Rudimentary maths, then, tells you not every club will see a player receive a central contract.

The irony is Warrington and Wigan are arguably the two clubs least in need of a £50,000 break.

Furthermore, Wigan already have two marquee players for 2018 in the shape of Tomkins and George Williams, meaning any of their wages above £150,000 is not counted on the salary cap. That gives them an advantage and there is a clear concern the richer clubs will only get stronger and widen the gap with the have-nots.

Wakefield Trinity, for instance, would be a perfect example of a club who would benefit from having a central contract for a player.

Tom Johnstone, a blatantly talented young English winger who will surely represent his country one day, would tick many boxes.

The only problem is, like many of their counterparts, will the club, his chairman, coach or the player know who to ask or even what to ask for given such blurred messages coming from the top?