NRL planning to protect players under a national insurance scheme

Cartalyst: Alex McKinnon. Photo:
Cartalyst: Alex McKinnon. Photo:

NRL officials will discuss plans to move towards a national insurance scheme when they meet with the Rugby League Players' Association on Tuesday.

Some of rugby league's biggest names - including Cameron Smith, Willie Mason, Ryan Hoffman and Kevin Kingston - will be representing the interests of the playing group when they converge on Rugby League Central.

One of the main items on the official agenda relates to insurance - players are not currently fully covered for catastrophic injuries, such as the one suffered by Newcastle forward Alex McKinnon.

Rugby league is the only major Australian sport without a single national insurance program but there are plans to follow the lead of the AFL, ARU, cricket and A-League to ensure this will soon be the case.

The collective bargaining agreement was amended last year to ensure a player's contract is guaranteed, meaning he would receive all entitlements if injured while playing or training. There is also a $500,000 policy in place for total and permanent disability. However, an ARLC review found that there are currently different brokers providing different policies to players depending on which body they play for. So a player in the QRL, for instance, has a different level of cover to one playing under the CRL umbrella.

Now, for the first time ever, the NRL is looking at the option of taking a whole-of-game approach with a single insurance scheme, regardless of where participants play. The move, which would ideally set a rate for permanent disability and for weekly benefits, would allow for significant savings to be achieved. It would also allow for better monitoring of injuries and claims, which would highlight if there are any trends in the game which need to be addressed.

The NRL moved quickly to assure McKinnon he would be given a "job for life" after he suffered a broken neck in a tackle earlier this year. It is hoped that other players suffering serious injuries will be financially covered if the NRL and the RLPA agree to terms on the national insurance scheme.

"It's something that will be discussed amongst the playing group and the NRL. It's an issue we want clarified and resolved," RLPA president Clint Newton said of insurance issues.

The ARU provides cover for its players for the first $1.5 million of sports injury claims in a 2014 policy brokered by Gow-Gates Insurance Brokers. Their policy - which extends to coaches, trainers, managers, referees, touch judges, ball boys and voluntary workers - provides a benefit of up to $400,000 for quadriplegia and paraplegia.

Chris Fellas, a financial planner and NRL player manager with Insight Investment Partners, has been an advocate for a national insurance scheme for several years and has previously spoken to the RLPA about a need for one. He said his semi-professional footballing clients in competitions such as the NSW Cup were covered for a life policy through their superannuation funds, while they also had income protection policy should they be unable to work their second jobs due to injury. However, he said it was important full-time professionals were also properly covered for career-ending or debilitating injuries.

"In my view, the individual should be picking up some of the cost of coverage, it shouldn't be for free," he said.

There will be plenty of other ground covered when the RLPA convenes next week. The other official agenda items are:

- tackles issues, such as lifting manoeuvres;

- judiciary, including the composition, transparency and concerns about consistency;

- the obstruction rule;

- scheduling, including representative burden and pre- and post-season workload;

- media policies and requirements;

- the responsibilities of players and sanctions for misbehaviour.

"The agenda is just a discussion, it's not a list of demands from the players, it's not a confrontational meeting," Newton said.

"They are simply issues we feel are important to discuss."

Another hot topic is player workload and whether the schedule needed to be tweaked to lighten the load of elite players.

"There are a number of opinions on it so it's about coming to a consensus on what the players think could work," Newton said. "But at the same time, that could be dictated by the broadcast agreement."

This story NRL planning to protect players under a national insurance scheme first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.