Dally M Medal favourite Johnathan Thurston has not ruled out leading a player boycott of the awards ceremony over a six-month dispute with the NRL.
The Rugby League Players’ Association (RLPA) confirmed the threat was real, saying players had become frustrated with the NRL’s response to an ongoing collective bargaining agreement review which began in March.
The main topics in dispute are abolishing the five-day turnaround between games, increasing off-season annual leave from six to eight weeks and contributing more to retirement funds and education welfare costs.
Thurston confirmed speculation that players would consider boycotting NRL finals promotions including the grand final breakfast and the Dally M awards over the dispute.
Asked if he would boycott the Dally Ms, the star North Queensland halfback told Triple M Radio on Thursday: “Yeah, I was one of the boys who actually raised that (a boycott).
“We’ve done that in the past.
“I’ve got no qualms or worries about doing that if that’s what the RLPA and the players are united in (doing).”
Thurston had been tipped to collect a record fourth Dally M Medal.
Players boycotted the 2003 Dally M awards.
“Now is the time that we believe to stand up and abolish the five-day turnaround,” Thurston said.
Manly hooker Matt Ballin said the players were behind Thurston and the RLPA and did not play down the boycott threat.
“JT (Thurston) is not doing it for himself, we are all together in this,” he told Fox Sports TV.
“There are a few issues that need addressing … by using these methods it will bring those (issues) to the fore.”
RLPA president Clint Newton demanded the NRL act on the players’ requests.
“Feedback from the playing group has revealed player wellbeing as a priority concern,” he said.
“We’re disappointed that, whilst publicly stating they have a shared commitment to player wellbeing, the NRL response is not meeting our expectations.”
While the five-year collective bargaining agreement between the RLPA and the NRL doesn’t expire until 2017, there is a provision for them to review the game’s profitability and whether payments or allowances can be increased.
The RLPA began talks with the NRL after the league announced a $50-million surplus for the last financial year.
The NRL recently announced a record new $925 million free-to-air TV deal beginning in 2018 with Channel Nine.
“We’ve been negotiating for months in good faith … but the NRL remains reluctant to acknowledge that players deserve to have their fair share keep pace with increases in game revenue,” Newton said.
The NRL was being sought for comment.