Dave Craven: Exclude high earners from salary cap to prevent exodus

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Even those foolish fans who booed him at Headingley will be glad Sam Tomkins is staying in rugby league for the foreseeable future.

Put simply, the game cannot afford to lose the remarkable talent to the dreaded union, the tempting NRL or even an ill-timed cold such is his current pulling power.

The game here does not have enough world-class stars to warrant his release and, if England are realistically hoping to win the 2013 World Cup on home soil, it is imperative he is fit and firing.

While the loss of brother Joel to Saracens is unfortunate, given he was emerging as a centre of some potential, it is not a situation which will cause much alarm in Steve McNamara’s ranks. Wigan maybe short of a decent three-quarter but the national side will not miss him overtly.

It seems the word in his ear from good friend Chris Ashton about the vast riches in the 15-man game have hit the mark. You cannot blame him fancying a bit of the same, given what his former Wigan colleague has achieved – Heineken Cup final, Six Nations glory and a World Cup – although it would be no surprise if he, like Chev Walker, Karl Pryce and Lee Smith before, made a swift return.

While Sam Tomkins has signed a five-year contract at Wigan, his long-term plans remain ambiguous if that makes any sense.

There is a clause in his deal that he has to stay for at least three of those. Surely that should read ‘five’ shouldn’t it?

It just shows a contract really isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. However, the maestro will be here until at least 2014 and for that the sport needs to be grateful.

If it had been an Australian who produced the two exquisite passes for Ryan Hall’s second and Chris Heighington’s try at Wembley, there would, no doubt, be entire columns written about the sublime full-back until Christmas.

There had been fears the immense trickery which caused such carnage among Super League defences would be easily unmasked by the surly Australians, but, as it turned out, the stellar Tomkins enjoyed his best international performance so far proving he has what it takes at the highest level.

England need a repeat from him tomorrow to set up a re-match with the Kangaroos in Leeds but what about the long-term issue of keeping such quality in the sport?

Reports say Tomkins will be paid £300,000 per year at Wigan, a princely sum considering the salary cap for an entire squad is just £1.7m, and one making him the highest-earner in Super League.

But now that figure has been mentioned, it is inevitable stars at rival clubs will seek similar next time they start contract negotiations with pale-faced CEOs.

Other clubs may not – cannot – be as accommodating as Wigan and there is a chance, with pay demands rising but not the actual cap, that more of England’s top talent will seek a better price elsewhere, whether that be union or the NRL.

Something needs to be done to ensure that is not the case. Tomkins said as much himself.

For all its recent vitality, the RFL is in no position to initiate central contracts like cricket but, worryingly, neither is there imminent signs of the cap increasing even though it will soon be more than £4.5m in Australia and union.

The cap is worthy and has stabilised the competition but soon, clubs like Leeds, Warrington and Wigan will tire of being restricted.

The simplest, and most creative, solution is to allow the highest-earning player at each club to be excluded from that £1.7m limit.

Clubs need some much-needed leeway or the circling predators will return again. And again.