‘He was only on £11,000’ – Stuart Fielden explains how Chris Ashton and Kyle Eastmond were lost to Rugby Union

Great Britain legend Stuart Fielden believes only more of Super League’s best talent will move on to either the NRL or Rugby Union while there is such a big financial deficit.

Regan Grace became the latest Super League player to move to the 15-man code this season when he signed a lucrative deal with French Rugby outfit Racing 92.

He follows a long list of star players lost to Rugby Union over the last two decades as Super League’s salary cap has stagnated while other competition’s have seen a rapid increase.

Speaking to Serious About Rugby League, Fielden says that Grace’s exit is nothing new as he recalled the time a former Wigan Warriors team-mate switched codes to take up a more financially rewarding contract.

“Their (Premiership Rugby) salary cap is £5 million and you only have to look at our players that have gone to Union to see the difference that makes,” said Fielden.

“You look at Chris Ashton, he was only on about £11,000 (a year) at Wigan. He went in 2007, I remember it well.

“He had one poor game when it was really wet and he dropped like three balls in the Challenge Cup. He got judged off that a little bit but he had huge potential.

“He was on naff all at Wigan and he went to Northampton that year and was on about £50,000. I can’t remember for sure but one of his first contracts, I remember seeing the difference and thinking ‘wow’.”

Ashton has since gone on to become a household name in the 15-man code, playing 44 times for England and accumulating almost 1,000 points in a glittering career.

Fielden added: “The difference from what he came from to what he went to, his notoriety, value and earnings, it’s just not comparable to what it would have been if he had stayed in rugby league.

“He’s gone on to earn probably, four, five maybe even ten times what he would have earned in rugby league. He’s become a superstar Rugby Union player at international level.

“For England alone he would have been earning £10,000 a game. I remember playing for England and Great Britain in rugby league and you would be lucky to get a tenth of that.

“Kyle Eastmond at Saints did the same. It’s a no-brainer really (to move) because you can’t make that money in league. They get 80,000 at Twickenham every time and have the financial backing.”

Wigan-born Ashton will turn 36 next year but he continues to play at the top level in Rugby Union, winning the 2022 Premiership title with Leicester Tigers back in June.

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John Johnson
John Johnson
25 days ago

The salary cap was always badly thought out. “Even competition” doesn’t really put bums on seats, superstar players do that. Besides, the cap hasn’t evened-out the competition in any case. Wakefield aren’t winning a Grand Final any time in the next decade. The main problem, before any sort of cap, was that the top side (essentially, Wigan) could have a reserve team full of internationals that should have been showing their talent at other clubs. There’s no need for an absolute cap (unless it’s massive), just a cap on the number of squad players on more than (say) £100k. For the number-limited frontline squad, if you’ve got a crazy rich investor prepared to pay 13 superstars £1m a year, good luck to you, and go for it – the whole competition wins from the profile uplift.