QUEENSLAND coach Kevin Walters has dismissed concerns Maroons stars could withdraw from the November Origin series following revelations the code’s elite stars face representative pay-cuts because of the COVID crisis.
NSW and Queensland players traditionally receive match fees of $30,000 each per Origin game, but that figure could be slashed to $10,000 this season for this historic end-of-year series due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
State of Origin is worth an estimated $90 million to the NRL, but instead of sell-out crowds of 50,000 and 80,000 at Suncorp and ANZ Stadiums respectively, this year’s series could witness COVID-restricted crowds of around 10,000.
That is a huge financial blow for the NRL, and there are concerns some big-name players could withdraw from the series, especially after such a gruelling NRL season that has tested the resolve of stars without bye weekends.
The NRL this season has witnessed the worst injury toll in two decades, but Walters is banking on the Maroons’ traditional team spirit to ensure not a single player turns his back on the famous Queensland jumper.
“The money discussion is not a concern for our guys,” Walters said.
“Money has never been the driving force for Queensland guys, so it’s not an issue for us.
“I can’t see any of my players pulling out on financial grounds.
“If guys are injured, that’s a different matter. But I’ve spoken to a number of my players and they all want to play, even if it is after the grand final.
“We’re pretty realistic about the pay situation.
“As I understand it, the RLPA (Rugby League Players Association) has agreed to pay cuts given the impact COVID has had on the game, and Origin was one area where they were happy to sacrifice some pay.
“Having Origin in November will be a unique thing, and my boys want to be a part of it. They love pulling on that Queensland jumper.”
Storm sensation Cameron Munster, who has played seven Origin matches and enters his fourth campaign this season, said he would wear the mighty Queensland jumper for free.
Munster also played down concerns about Origin players being stuck in the NRL’s strict COVID bubble for an extra month, saying he will do whatever it takes to bring the Origin shield back to Queensland.
“It’s not ideal to jump in another bubble, but I’d love to play for my state again if I get the opportunity,” Munster said.
“As a young kid growing up you wanted to wear the Maroon.
“Everyone has got to remember that players back in the day like Trevor Gillmeister and Alfie Langer weren’t getting the match payments we get. They were playing for the love of the game.
“The hit to the pay is not ideal, but eventually something has got to give. No-one is bigger than the game.
“I’m more than happy to jump in another bubble as long as we’re not living like prisoners.
“The match payment is not a massive issue at all. It’s about being able to play in the Maroon if I get the opportunity.”