There is a real appetite for the new season to begin in a fortnight’s time given some of the star recruits brought in from the NRL. Traditionally, Super League has struggled to compete for leading players from Australia – and retain its own – but Warrington Wolves’ capture of St George Illawarra’s England stand-off Gareth Widdop for 2020 suggests that is changing.
The Yorkshireman, 29, will join fellow ‘marquee’ recruit Blake Austin, the Australian half-back who has already joined from Canberra Raiders ahead of this campaign. With Leeds Rhinos signing two ‘marquee’ players in Trent Merrin and Konrad Hurrell and St Helens and Huddersfield also bringing in NRL quality, it is no surprise Super League is buoyed by such recruitment.
Since Elstone came into the role last year, he has desired making more of the players’ talent, marketing them better to attract new audiences, and these sort of players fit that bill.
Currently, clubs are allowed two ‘marquee’ players – a player whose salary cap value is limited to just £150,000.
It means, though the NRL has a far bigger salary cap, Super League clubs can still compete for some of the biggest names.
With Widdop, Merrin and Hurrell all making the switch, the hope is more will now follow. Asked if the limit could, then, be increased to three, Elstone admitted: “There are discussions.
“A number of clubs have talked about it and you can see with the crop of players coming in in 2019.
“It’s on the agenda. Whether ratified by all clubs – some may have different views – we’ll see, but it is on the agenda and clubs are aware of it. It is great news about Gareth (Widdop).
“I’ve gone on record that when Wire announced Blake I said to (Warrington CEO) Karl (Fitzpatrick) it was the best news since I’d been in the job and this is as good.
“Our game is about players and superstars and to get someone of his quality in Super League is fantastic.”
Elstone conceded he hoped more clubs would now use the ‘marquee’ ruling with less than half currently doing so.
“From where I’m sitting, high-quality marquee players across the board gives us more assets to work with,” he added.
“You have to work out the pros and cons. I’m down the Wire (Warrington) route but it’s for Super League to decide.”