Dan Walsh, Staff Writer
The NRL has confirmed the Indigenous All Stars game will return to the rugby league calendar in 2015 at a meeting with club CEO's today at Rugby League Central.
The popular representative fixture will be staged on February 14 next year, most likely at Suncorp Stadium after being postponed this year due to the inaugural NRL Auckland Nines tournament and a number of stars being involved in the World Cup last November.
The proposed 2015 pre-season will again be kicked off with the nine-a-side tournament after its unprecedented success this year, with the World Club Challenge and a slew of trial matches rounding out a busy pre-season before the competition proper begins on March 5.
In a wide ranging meeting with representatives from all 16 clubs, NRL supremo Dave Smith also outlined plans to increase the veteran player allowance by up to 50 per cent, with a maximum allowance of $250,000 per club in 2015 and $300,000 in 2016, as well reducing the eligibility requirement from eight to six years service with a side.
The lack of leeway for club veterans has been placed firmly under the spotlight this year with the Sea Eagles unable to retain stalwart Glenn Stewart due to salary cap restraints, though the NRL confirmed the contentious June 30 transfer window would remain in place despite criticism in recent years in the wake of contract sagas involving the Sharks Andrew Fifita and Penrith's Jamie Soward.
Also discussed was the introduction of a revolutionary club funding model which rewards strong performance by clubs but is conditional on minimum standards being met.
Coming into effect on November 1st, the new model offers "incentive payments" to clubs should they meet specified targets across membership, game day attendance, merchandise and sponsorship, while up to $1 million in funding from the governing body will be "at risk" if they do not meet minimum standards.
The NRL also announced that the new rule changes aimed at reducing the influence of wrestling in the ruck and keeping the ball in play for longer have resulted in one of the closest competitions on record.
Almost half the games across the opening eight rounds have been decided by a margin of 0-6 points, with one in five matches decided by just two points or less, while an increase in playing time of about two minutes per game has also been recorded.