Tonga Test value outweighs financial cost for Kangaroos after pay cut

Tonga's Andrew Fifita and Tevita Pangai Junior celebrate Rugby League World Cup win over the Kiwis at FMG Stadium in Hamilton last year. Picture: Photosport

AUCKLAND, 18 OCTOBER 2018 (SMH) – Kangaroos players have placed more value in the Test against Tonga than the $17,000 pay cut they’ve taken to ensure Saturday’s historic match proceeds. One of Australia’s stars even declared he would have happily played for free.

After pocketing the standard $20,000 for last Saturday’s match against New Zealand last Saturday, all 19 players wearing the green and gold will take home just $3000 after this weekend’s official sellout at Mt Smart Stadium.

The Tongans, who were given a rockstar reception in front of 1500 fans at the Auckland venue on Wednesday, will also collect $3000 each, a 1000 per cent mark-up on the $30 daily allowance they received during the World Cup.

Fullback James Tedesco said he was prepared to play for nothing given what it meant to pull on the Kangaroos jersey and feature in a Test.

“All of us are just happy to play for Australia,” Tedesco told Fairfax Media on Wednesday. “It doesn’t matter if I get paid or not. To get that first cap under my belt for Australia, I’d play for free. It’s good to get this game on and Tonga are so passionate, it will be a good test for them and a good test for us.

“We had a meeting during the first few days when we got here and were told how much we were getting. We signed some things which told us how much. I wasn’t really listening. I didn’t think about it. Everyone is just keen to play for Australia.”

Tedesco represented Italy 12 months ago at the World Cup where players were virtually handed a $200 weekly allowance.

“But all I wanted to do was represent Italy and make my family proud, and it was another chance to play footy at an elite level,” Tedesco said.

It is inconceivable a team like the Wallabies or Australian Test cricket team – and definitely not All Blacks – would be required to take such a financial hit for an international match.

It was only when the Australians agreed to the pay demands, meaning the NRL could save more than $300,000, the Tongan blockbuster was given the green light.

The Rugby League Players Association said there was some initial ”agitation” from the senior players because it was only 10 months ago that they had agreed to the standard Test fee as part of the collective bargaining agreement.

“But they’re open to assisting the growth and development of the international game,” RLPA general manager Clint Newton, who met with the Kangaroos on Wednesday and will meet with the Tongans on Thursday, told Fairfax Media.

“Negotiations for all players ended well for all parties 10 months ago, but 10 months down the line the same group of players who thought they were going to receive a certain benefit were receiving a significantly different benefit. That’s something that can’t be understated.”

While pay parity between the nations will not happen in the near future, especially given the interest in Australia and New Zealand holds more appeal with TV broadcasters, the RLPA and Rugby League International Federation are keen to raise the standards of training camps when teams are on tour.

There is also a push to have the international calendar sorted each year, which will give the NRL clubs a better idea of what demands will be placed on their players, and prevent a match like the Australia and Tonga Test being confirmed just five weeks in advance.

The Nine Network will beam the game on 9GEM as they were not prepared to push their all-important 6pm news bulletin for a second straight week.

Meanwhile, Tedesco said Australia could not afford to give Tonga the same amount of possession as they did with New Zealand. After a blazing start, the Kangaroos spent the majority of the first half defending their line, with the Kiwis enjoying nearly 70 per cent of possession by the break. “Tonga have a lot of explosive players and if we give them too much ball then can do some damage,” he said.

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