A confidential document sent by the NRL salary cap auditors to all 16 clubs shows a $ 330,000 shortfall in the average salary between the NRL’s top five No.6’s compared to the top five halfbacks in the competition.
As debate has raged over the value of Kalyn Ponga and Cameron Munster in recent weeks, The Herald has obtained the 2022 Salary Cap Benchmarking document which collates the salary of every player and provides clubs with the data to determine whether they are paying overs.
The Storm have reportedly offered Munster a contract extension worth between $ 750,000- $ 800,000 a season.
While the club has been criticized for low-balling the Queensland and Australian five-eighth, the document (without naming specific players) reveals that the average salary of a top five five-eighth in 2022 is $ 764,460.
The document also provides the median salary of the top five No. 6s, which means the third highest paid five-eighth in the competition is on a contract worth $ 752,000 this year.
While the document doesn’t name players, it provides the average and median salary for players in each position based on a five player bracket (Eg. Player 1-5, 6-10, 11-15 etc). The salaries are also based on the reduced cap (due to COVID-19) of $ 9.4m this year.
Other interesting revelations in the document include:
- Hookers earn only more than wingers.
- Props are the most expensive forwards. There are 19 prop forwards who are among the top five highest paid players at their respective clubs.
The Herald has spoken to more than a dozen player agents and club officials during the past week to try and determine which players would rank as the top five paid players in each position.
Some of the game’s former greats have also provided their top five performing players in each position to provide an insight into which teams are getting value for money.
- Average salary = $ 764,460
- Median salary = $ 752,000
Cameron Munster tops the list as the highest paid five-eighth in the NRL earning close to seven figures at the Storm.
Parramatta’s Dylan Brown recently took up an option to remain at the Eels but won’t enter the top five No.6’s until next year.
Luke Keary is believed to be categorized as a five-eighth, coming in at No.3 ahead of grand finalists Jarome Luai and Cody Walker.
One of the game’s greatest five-eighths, Brad Fittler, selected four of the highest paid five-eighths in his top five performers, albeit in a different order.
Fittler included Brown on the list ahead of Keary given his form to start the year.
- Average salary = $ 1,095,560
- Median salary = $ 1,098,300
It’s not surprising that the halfback role is the highest paid position in the NRL with top five players earning an average of close to $ 1.1m.
The document also reveals that the third highest paid halfback is on a salary of $ 1.098m in 2022, which is believed to be Dragons halfback Ben Hunt on a back-ended deal.
Luke Brooks’ deal with the Wests Tigers also gradually increases, with the Tigers playmaker expected to earn just shy of $ 1.1m next year.
Andrew Johns says Nathan Cleary is the best halfback in the NRL ahead of Manly’s Daly Cherry-Evans, both believed to be the highest paid players in the competition.
While the order is different, Johns ‘top five performing halfbacks has four of the highest paid players, switching out Brooks for Melbourne star Jahrome Hughes and Eels’ No.7 Mitchell Moses.
- Average salary = $ 939,020
- Median salary = $ 987,000
The top five paid fullbacks in the game are Kalyn Ponga, James Tedesco, Tom Trbojevic, Valentine Holmes and Latrell Mitchell. It is the second most expensive position in the game behind halfback (average salary of almost $ 1.1m).
There’s a big drop to the 6th-10th ranked fullbacks, whose average salary is almost $ 350,000 less than the top five No.1s.
Billy Slater considered longevity when deciding on the make up of his top five fullbacks, opting for Tedesco over Trbojevic as the premier No.1.
He has also included Ryan Papenhuyzen and Clint Gutherson – both players that don’t feature in the top five highest paid fullbacks.
- Average salary = $ 614,680
- Median salary = $ 606,300
A top five center is worth around $ 165,000 more than a top five winger. Recent deals to Kotoni Staggs, Zac Lomax and Stephen Crichton have driven up the value of centers in recent years.
Waqa Blake is in the final year of a deal which sees both Penrith and Parramatta contribute to his salary.
Former Penrith and NSW center Ryan Girdler believes the top two centers in the game are reflected in their salaries, but has highlighted the value the Storm and Sharks are getting respectively from having Justin Olam and Siosifa Talakai on relatively cheap deals.
- Average salary = $ 451.602
- Median salary = $ 468,120
Wingers are the least valuable position. It’s no wonder the likes of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Josh Addo-Carr were chasing ‘fullback’ money in their most recent deals.
Xavier Coates’ new deal with Melbourne pushes him into the top five alongside Daniel Tupou and David Nofoaluma.
It’s understood Penrith’s Brian To’o, arguably the best winger in the game, is on a deal worth around $ 375,000 this year.
Girdler believes To’o’s salary doesn’t reflect his standing in the competition, adding him into his top five wingers list at the expense of Watene-Zelezniak.
There’s only one winger in the NRL who is in their club’s top five highest paid players.
- Average salary = $ 841,316
- Median salary = $ 846,000
The average of a top five lock forward is higher than a second-rower despite David Fifita’s monster salary at the Titans inflating the figures for the edge forwards.
The widely considered best lock in the NRL, Isaah Yeo, isn’t among the top five paid No.13s in the game, believed to be on just less than $ 700,000 this year.
Jason Taumalolo’s 10-year mega deal sees him the top of the list, while Cameron Murray has also climbed up the ranks thanks to the funds made available by Adam Reynolds’ departure from South Sydney, where he earned close to $ 1m last year.
The Dragons decided to pay Jack de Belin top dollar while he was out of the game in the hope he would rediscover his old form, but is still struggling to find his feet.
Joe Tapine is also on a mammoth deal with the Raiders despite being moved to the front row.
Paul Gallen labeled Yeo as the best lock in the game, however his deal is believed to be worth around $ 650,000. That puts him into the 6th-10th ranked locks, who earn an average salary of $ 670,000.
Gallen has added Yeo and Finucane into his top five, removing Thompson and de Belin from the list.
- Average salary = $ 618,440
- Median salary = $ 550,000
This is one of the most alarming statistics of the document, highlighting a decline in quality hookers in the NRL. Only three hookers are in the top five paid players at their respective NRL clubs.
The No. 9 role is one of the most important positions on the field but apart from wingers, the position paying the least for the top-five players is hooker.
A top five front-rower now earns $ 230,000 more than a top class hooker.
The highest paid hooker in the NRL, Canberra’s Josh Hodgson, doesn’t feature in the top five No.9s in the game, according to former Wests Tigers rake Robbie Farah.
Farah’s ranking highlights the value for money Penrith are getting out of Api Koroisau, whose salary will increase by around $ 200,000 when he links with the Wests Tigers from next season.
- Average salary = $ 753,643
- Median salary = $ 728,800
Despite David Fifita’s monster salary inflating the value of the second-rowers, it remains the least valuable of the big men positions.
Wade Graham is on the final year of a lucrative deal which puts him in the top five, while Villiame Kikau’s salary is expected to increase next year at the Bulldogs.
Gallen believes there are three backrowers who don’t feature in the top five highest paid players in that position who are among the best in that role.
Gallen couldn’t find room for Fifita, Crichton or Frizell in his top five, adding Jai Arrow, Liam Martin and Kurt Capewell.
- Average salary = $ 845,860
- Median salary = $ 818,800
A decade ago Wayne Bennett declared a front-rower should never be paid more than $ 300,000 a year. A lot can change in 10 years.
The front row position is now considered the third most valuable of all roles in the game, well ahead of spine positions like hooker and five-eighth.
Tevita Pangai Jr is enjoying two salaries from the Bulldogs ($ 750,000) and Brisbane ($ 175,000).
Marty Taupau and Andrew Fifita are both in the final year of big deals they signed a number of years ago.
James Fisher-Harris and Payne Haas, considered by many as the best two props in the game, are both on salaries in the $ 700,000s. Their respective contracts will rise in the coming years.