South Sydney may have more than $1 million to sign a replacement for Greg Inglis after the NRL agreed not to include any of the retired superstar's playing contract for next season in the salary cap.
NRL salary cap auditor Richard Gardham held a one-on-one meeting with Inglis to discuss his sudden retirement and future plans before deciding on a policy that would not disadvantage the Rabbitohs but did not create a loophole that clubs could exploit in the future.
The Inglis situation is unusual in that he has walked away without being paid the final 18 months of his playing contract, which is believed to be worth about $1 million per season, and will take up off-field employment with Souths.
Had he received full payment for his contract or negotiated a settlement from the Rabbitohs that amount would have been included in the salary cap.
Instead, the NRL has ruled that the money Inglis earned before his retirement on April 14 – estimated to be about $500,000 – would be included in this season's salary cap along with all off-field earnings for new coaching, ambassador and community roles with the club for 2019.
This would leave about $300,000 for the Rabbitohs to spend before June 30 and the NRL will make a final determination on next year's salary cap later in the year but Souths could have up to $900,000 available for 2020.
The amount will depend on how much Inglis is paid in 2020 over and above the expected wage for the roles he will be doing and the NRL has given Souths a preliminary indicative value of $100,000 to be included in next year's salary cap for planning purposes.
Gardham said the NRL had decided to treat the Inglis case similar to a medical retirement, whereby the full payment to the player is included in the salary cap for the season in which he is injured but not the following year.
The other options considered were:
- The full value of Inglis's contract being included in the cap, even though he will not receive the money;
- Any payment to Inglis by Souths for off-field employment to be included in the salary cap, and;
- All payments to Inglis being cap exempt.
The first two options were considered a disincentive for clubs to employ big-name players after their retirement, while the third may prompt clubs to offer players off-field jobs as a salary cap rort.
The ruling is similar to the way the NRL treated Peter Wallace's decision to retire last season and take up a coaching role at Penrith.
NRL chief operating officer Nick Weeks said Inglis was a player widely agreed as being important to retain in the game.
"Souths were keen on ensuring an ongoing connection between Greg and their club, and saw real value in him providing ongoing services across their community activities, their commercial activities and their football activities," Weeks said.
"We are comfortable that Greg had genuinely had enough and didn't want to play so if you accept that, and we do, then we think it is a good thing to remain involved with the club and in the game.
"We have tried to take an approach which was consistent with past assessments but also is one we can apply in the future and we think we have struck the right balance."
Souths had made contact with the NRL a week before Inglis announced his retirement to advise that he was considering his future and to discuss the salary cap implications if he was to take up off-field employment with the club.
Gardham then met with Inglis at the Rabbitohs offices in Redfern.
"After the club put their application in we went back with just three areas for clarification and also said we want to meet with Greg," Gardham said.
"We sat down for 30 minutes at Souths offices and just had a discussion really to gain an understanding of what his motivations were for walking away when he walked away, why he wants to work in the areas he is working in and getting some understanding of how the agreements came about.
"I thought he was very honest and quite open in terms of the responses he gave."
The NRL wants to ensure Inglis gains the skills required to fulfil the off-field jobs, including coaching qualifications, before making a final ruling on next season's salary cap.
If it is felt he is being paid more than the job is worth, the difference will be included in the salary cap.
"If Greg Inglis was fit and wanting to play Souths are probably a stronger team with him, so any decision we make here we have got to make sure it is not over-penalising anyone from a competitive evenness point of view," Gardham said.
"If we are comfortable with the amount they are paying him and the activity he has done in the past six months the position could be that it is all excluded or an amount could be included in the salary cap."
Rival clubs were advised of the NRL's decision at last week's CEO's conference and Weeks said they appeared comfortable with the ruling.
The Rabbitohs believe they mounted a strong case that none of Inglis' post-career salary should be included in the 2019 or 2020 salary caps but accepted the NRL's decision.
"The club is supportive of the transparent and exhaustive process the NRL undertook in coming to their decision and looks forward to a consistent approach being taken in the future," a Souths statement said.