Dally M Medal favourite Johnathan Thurston has not ruled out leading a player boycott of the gala awards ceremony over a six month dispute with the NRL.
The Rugby League Players’ Association (RLPA) confirmed the threat was real, saying players had become frustrated with the NRL’s response to an ongoing collective bargaining agreement (CBA) review which began in March.
The main topics in dispute are abolishing the five-day turnaround between games, increasing off-season annual leave from six to eight weeks and contributing more to retirement funds and education welfare costs.
An NRL spokesman said that they looked forward to “constructive” talks with the RLPA on the issues raised on Thursday.
Thurston confirmed speculation that players would consider boycotting NRL finals promotions including the grand final breakfast and the Dally M awards over the dispute.
Asked if he would boycott the Dally Ms, the star North Queensland halfback told Triple M Radio on Thursday: “Yeah, I was one of the boys who actually raised that (a boycott).
“We’ve done that in the past.
“I’ve got no qualms or worries about doing that if that’s what the RLPA and the players are united in (doing).”
Thurston had been tipped to collect a record fourth Dally M Medal.
Players boycotted the 2003 Dally M awards.
“Now is the time that we believe to stand up and abolish the five-day turnaround,” Thurston said.
Manly hooker Matt Ballin said the players were behind Thurston and the RLPA and did not play down the boycott threat.
“JT (Thurston) is not doing it for himself, we are all together in this,” he told Fox Sports TV.
“There are a few issues that need addressing…by using these methods it will bring those (issues) to the fore.”
An NRL spokesman said they looked forward to renewing talks.
“The current CBA, which came into effect in 2012 and runs until 2017, already delivers a salary cap increase of over 40 per cent for the players,” the spokesman said.
“In addition to the CBA, the RLPA have raised several other issues they wish to explore and we have committed to undertake those discussions.”
While the five-year collective bargaining agreement between the RLPA and the NRL doesn’t expire until 2017, there is a provision for them to review the game’s profitability and whether payments or allowances can be increased.
The RLPA began talks with the NRL after the league announced a $50 million surplus for the last financial year.
The NRL recently announced a record new $925 million free-to-air TV deal beginning in 2018 with Channel Nine.
“We’ve been negotiating for months in good faith…but the NRL remains reluctant to acknowledge that players deserve to have their fair share keep pace with increases in game revenue,” RLPA president Clint Newton said.
Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson was thankful players had not threatened to boycott finals.
“They (players) obviously feel they are not being heard but they don’t want to touch the footy (by boycotting games) which is a good thing,” Robinson said.