Keiron Cunningham admits he would have faced a difficult decision had the cashed-up NRL come calling when he was a player.
Cunningham has backed suggestions from the RFL’s Roger Draper to introduce centrally contracted players amid a growing threat from Down Under, with his backrower Joe Greenwood joining Gold Coast Titans last week.
In 2001 Cunningham himself became a member of ‘Club Great Britain’, which successfully kept stars like himself and Kris Radlinski in the sport.
With the NRL’s salary cap continuing to rise, Cunningham knows that more and more youngsters will be targeted. He is unsure what his own reaction would have been in their current situation.
“If I were playing now and I was of the same calibre I was in my heyday would I go to the NRL?
“It’s a difficult question. I got an offer from rugby union at an early age and it was a big incentive to go across.
“But that was rugby union.
“Would I have gone to the NRL? I honestly don’t know.
“Loyalty will only go so far, and when you look at what the superstars in the NRL earn and what the potential is in four or five years, you can’t blame players for wanting to leave.
“As a coach I don’t want them to leave because I think it devalues our competition, but you can’t blame the players.
“It is a short career, and if you get promised the gold at the end of the rainbow then you can’t blame them.”
Cunningham says the RFL needs to do something to react to the growing spending power from Australia.
He added: “I said two years ago that potentially we’ll become a feeder competition for Australia, because they’re literally going up and up and we’re stuck in the mud.
“We have to protect our assets and central contracts are a step forward.
“We can all grumble about finances and what players get paid, but if you look at football it’s very similar to their competitions. The Premier League is rich and they go out and get who they want.
“That’s what’s happening in the NRL.
“I’m not sure we can change it, because we can’t chuck the same money at it that the NRL does, but we’ll do our best and we don’t want to lose our best up-and-coming players.
“Every NRL club has a recruiter over here and they’re all feeding back stuff about players even from 19s games and the reserves.n For them, a couple of hundred thousand Aussie dollars is a punt, but for us it’s a big contract.
“If one in five or four turns up then it saves paying a million dollars for somebody. It’s frustrating, but that’s the era that we’re in and everybody’s in the same boat.”