NRL chief executive Dave Smith and South Sydney Rabbitohs CEO Shane Richardson say the new player insurance scheme was on the drawing board long before Newcastle forward Alex McKinnon's career-ending spinal injury earlier this year.
Richardson, on behalf of the NRL clubs, hosed down suggestions the McKinnon incident initiated discussions over the new insurance scheme – which would make players eligible for payouts of up to $1 million after career-ending injuries – instead claiming it had been in the works throughout the past year.
"The reality is we have been working on this with the Players Association and with the NRL for nearly 12 months now. We have known that the current insurance scheme was inadequate and we have worked really hard with the insurers and with the Players Association to get to where we are at today," Richardson said.
"It isn't just about the unfortunate tragedy with Alex. It is about trying to go long-term into the future with what we are going to do for player welfare... and we have been working at this over a long period. It's about going forward and not just looking back."
Smith seconded Richardson's comments before explaining that the insurance scheme would see significantly increased payments (from $500,000 to $1 million) to cover rugby league players, as young as grassroots footballers, who may suffer career-ending injuries.
This arrangement will be in place until March next season, when a permanent solution is hoped to be introduced.
"These tragic accidents, let's face it, they happen very, very rarely but when they do we want to be there to support the family and the players wherever they play in rugby league," Smith said.
"What this scheme recognises is a very significant step forward for the game to ensure that for this season we have the protections that we need, but this is about a permanent solution – so this combined with a... broader game insurance scheme is something we hope to have in place by next March.
"It is very much a part of a longer-term ambition around player welfare for every player in our game.
"What we need to make sure is that we're catering for players not just within their player's contracts and recognising that it is going to impact on their lives – this starts to do that."