Kangaroos pay cut set to revive Tonga Test

Kangaroos players are set to be asked to accept a one-off reduction in their $20,000 Test match fee in a move likely to ensure the proposed end-of-season clash with Tonga now goes ahead in Auckland.

Officials have been working for months to try and make the Test happen at a variety of locations around the globe but the $340,000 cost in match payments to the Australian team is a major obstacle to the viability of any game involving the Kangaroos.

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg will meet with his RLPA counterpart Ian Prendergast in coming days to discuss a reduced payment for the Kangaroos in the one-off Test against Tonga and it is understood the players are prepared to consider a significant sacrifice to play the Test.

It is unclear whether any of the money the Australian players forego would be re-directed to their Tonga counterparts, who played for free at last year's World Cup.

Playing the Test in Brisbane or Sydney is also cost prohibitive as it is understood to be around $200,000 to hire Suncorp Stadium - the price for the World Cup final between Australia and England, which drew a crowd of 40,033 despite tickets being on sale for more than 13 months.

Stadium hire and player payments for the Kangaroos are the biggest expenses but far from the only ones involved in organising a Test that is estimated to cost about $1 million to stage. 

Tonga celebrates a try.
Tonga celebrates a try. ©NRL Photos

The NRL also has to pay for airfares, accommodation for up to a week before the Test and meals for the playing squads and off-field staff, which can include more than 30 people per team, as well as high performance facilities for the players.

Other costs, which are estimated to total about $700,000, include:

  • stadium hire
  • licence fees;
  • a fee of $5-10 per ticket to Ticketek;
  • a transport levy of $2-4 per ticket for major events;
  • security;
  • hospitality;
  • marketing, and;
  • entertainment.

There would be no additional broadcast revenue for the Test and matches at non-traditional NRL venues, such as Hamilton, incur a significant fee to help Nine cover costs.

However, NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg revealed on Thursday that he was hopeful of a breakthrough after meeting with NZRL chairman Reon Edwards and CEO Greg Peters this week.

Greenberg urged Edwards and Peters to support international rugby league by allowing the Australia-Tonga Test to be played at Mt Smart Stadium on October 20 – a week after the Kangaroos will play the Kiwis at the same venue.

After attracting a capacity crowd of 30,003 for last year’s World Cup semi-final between Tonga and England, Mt Smart Stadium is considered an ideal venue for the Test given its size and the support for the Mate Ma’a in Auckland.

"I am very keen to see that game played at the end of the year," Greenberg told reporters at a presentation with Reconciliation Australia co-chair Melinda Cilento to acknowledge the NRL as the first national sporting organisation to reach the highest level of the Reconciliation Action Plan.

"There has been a number of discussions over the last two months and I hope to give you some good news on that in the next week," he said. 

Tonga forward Jason Taumalolo.
Tonga forward Jason Taumalolo. ©NRL Photos

Greenberg had earlier provided an update on negotiations over the Test to a meeting of the ARLC and chairman Peter Beattie said: "The commission is enthusiastically supporting that. We want that to happen and if it doesn’t happen it won’t be through want of trying on our behalf."

The NRL has been funding the Pacific Test since 2013 and this year's double-header at Campbelltown Stadium, featuring Tonga v Samoa and Fiji v PNG, was the closest the annual fixture has come to breaking even.

However, the costs involved in putting the Kangaroos on the field are more than the four Pacific teams combined, including airfares, accommodation, meals and transport – as well as Test match payments for the players.

The NRL is working on the 2019 draw ahead of an announcement in late October. It's anticipated that next season's Pacific Test will be played at the new 30,000 seat Western Sydney Stadium, which is due to open early next year.

Venues of a similar size, such as Melbourne's AAMI Park, Canberra's GIO Stadium, Newcastle's McDonald Jones Stadium, Mt Smart Stadium and the new North Queensland Stadium, which is scheduled for completion in 2020 are considered the most suitable for hosting Test football.

However, last year's ANZAC Test is Canberra was a loss maker as the crowd was just 18,535 and the NRL was subsidising payments to Kiwis players by $15,000 so they received the same amount as the Kangaroos – a total cost of $595,000 for the NRL.

New Zealand players now receive $5,000 per Test after the NRL ended the top up as part of the latest collective bargaining agreement with the RLPA, which commenced this year.

England players receive a similar amount to their Kiwis counterparts and players from most other nations don't get paid at all.