Since the beginning of Super League, the competition has been governed by a salary cap. The intention was to make the competition competitive and ensure no single team dominated as Wigan had done in the 1980s and 1990s.
However, at times the salary cap has perhaps been counter-productive. Some of the finest Super League stars have left in pursuit of bigger wages whether that be to the NRL or even rugby union.
Moreover, it could also be said that the salary cap’s intent has failed. The competitive competition and level-playing field it promised has never come about. Since 1996 only four teams have been crowned Super League Champions, promoted teams always seem to be relegated after one season whilst clubs on the rise continually have their best players pinched by the bigger clubs. Take Salford for instance. Despite playing in both the Grand Final and Challenge Cup Final in consecutive years, they’ve still lost many of their finest players to the supposed big clubs.
So, what is the salary cap doing? Super League continues to be a competition dominated by a handful of clubs unlike the NRL and Super League’s best players are all too often lured away from the competition. In fact, it could be said that the salary cap actually makes it harder for fans to see the very best players as it becomes a pain signing and keeping them.
Take George Williams for example. Not only was he attracted to the NRL in 2019 but now as he heads back to Super League salary cap issues appear to be slowing down his arrival as the likes of Warrington struggle to find a way to fit him under the cap. Take the salary cap away and Williams would be in Super League much more swiftly. Instead, he may have to wait and we have to wait to watch him. This is the problem with the salary cap. It stops us from seeing the very best players play in our competition. The marquee player rule has gone some way to alleviate this but it may not be enough.
That said, there are still plenty of arguments in favour of the salary cap. Its removal would arguably help the big clubs even more as they could use their pulling power and financial weight to stockpile the best players in the league. For instance, St Helens wouldn’t have any hesitation over handing Theo Fages a new deal if it no longer existed. But the way things are going the Frenchman is set to be let go because of the salary cap weakening the Champions and strengthening another club.
Perhaps the best approach would be to make the salary cap bigger. Give clubs a chance to spend a little bit more and keep the best players in the competition but still keep clubs capped in order to prompt players to leave the so-called big clubs to the likes of Huddersfield and Salford to enable them to mount a serious challenge of their own.