LOYALTY may as well be wiped from the rugby league dictionary because the game refuses to reward or acknowledge its existence.
Each year the head body parades retiring, long-service players as part of grand final day at ANZ Stadium but that is little more than a token public relations exercise.
No club has suffered more from the game’s neglect of long-service players than Manly – a club few players want to leave.
Local junior Steve Menzies is a classic example.
Menzies went overseas after his greatest triumph versus the Melbourne Storm in 2008 and in his last year the club got $100,000 relief on the salary cap – for 15 consecutive seasons.
Stewart has offered to play for less money than he has been offered elsewhere, to remain with the only senior club he has known for 11 seasons.
It’s a black mark against the game that rules to promote and encourage loyalty have been so slow to move.
Relief falling short
SINCE Menzies left at the end of 2008 season the NRL has increased the relief for 10-consecutive-year players to $200,000.
That applies if a club has one or 13 ten-year players.
So Manly, the only club with four 10-year players (Jason King, Anthony Watmough, Brett Stewart and Glenn Stewart) get the same discount as the Sydney Roosters who have just one long-service player in Anthony Minichiello.
Brusing centre Steve Matai will join the 10-year club next season to continue the amazing tradition at Manly.
Brisbane (Sam Thaiday and Corey Parker) and Melbourne (Cameron Smith and Billy Slater) are the only other clubs in the NRL with more than one player who has completed the decade of service.
Cronulla (Paul Gallen), Warriors (Jerome Ropati), Newcastle (Kurt Gidley), Dragons (Ben Creagh) and the Roosters (Anthony Minichiello) are one-offs.
Salary Cap squeeze
There are currently eight clubs without a 10-year player.
The NRL has no immediate plans to give exemption for loyalty from the salary cap.
Ten years service for a player with a fair rub of the green when it comes to injuries will have the player at more than 150 games.
If a club can find its way to pay that player $300,000 to $500,000 a season then they should be allowed to, with no strings attached.
The NRL will lift the relief to $250,000 maximum in 2015 and $350,000 in 2016.
In my view it is too little, too late - it should have happened years ago.