There are two ways to view Greg Inglis’ retirement announcement made on Monday. On the surface, the press conference informing the rugby league community that one of the greats of the game was calling time on his 14-year career, was moving.
There is no joy in seeing great athletes, pushed to the psychological brink due to injuries that hamper their ability to perform in the manner they once did. Inglis has spent copious hours in the physio’s hands over the last five years. First with lingering knee problems that brought significant pain, through which he played on numerous occasions and now with a serious shoulder problem that has retarded the movement in the joint so significantly that even his everyday activities have been affected.
The entire rugby league world stands in respect of the 32-year-old veteran of 32 Origin matches and 39 Test matches for an Australian team of which he had recently been named captain.
With all due respect to Inglis intended, there is a second lens through which many fans will see his sudden departure from the game and South Sydney’s decision to make an application to the NRL to have his considerable wage removed from their salary cap liabilities.
If reports of $1.5 million being due to Inglis over the next 18 months are correct, that liability is substantial. If Bunnies CEO Blake Solly and General Manager of Football Shane Richardson are able to free up that cash, South Sydney will be perfectly situated for an immediate ‘topping up’ of their squad. Alternatively, they will become a real contender for the signature of the next marquee player that comes on the open market.
Inglis will reportedly sacrifice his wage and take on an ambassadorial role at Souths. As a mentor, coach and community leader, he will be an asset and potentially make significant contributions to young players, the game as a whole and the indigenous community to which he has been an inspiration.
The number floated for his services is $300,000. A fair price I say for a man working full-time and with multiple responsibilities in a million dollar organisation. With many feeling the NRL is likely to ‘top up’ that amount and use Inglis in a similar role, the 263-game legend may hardly be out of pocket at all.
Opposition NRL clubs will smell a rat and why wouldn’t they? With no suggestion that the injury itself is anything but legitimate, boardrooms will be a chatter with discussion around the potential freeing up of money thanks to what appears a significant loophole in the salary cap system.
There are an array of ageing and busted players with whom clubs would love to reach some kind of comfortable agreement. Dare I suggest the Bulldogs – living in salary cap hell – might love to get their hands on Kieran Foran’s salary and the Dragons must be miffed that another season without Gareth Widdop appears likely.
What concerns me most about the pending approval of the Rabbitohs’ application to the NRL is the fundamental question around whether Greg Inglis cannot play or just doesn’t want to play.
Either way, I will applaud his career and his proud representation of the indigenous community in the greatest game of all. However, the delineation between being physically incapable of playing in 2019 and feeling that the time is right to walk away from the game even though competing may be physically possible, lies at the core of this decision.
If an independent medical practitioner was to examine Inglis and inform the rugby league world that he was physically incapable of taking to the field in 2019, I would be satisfied.
However, if three months out of the game to rest and rehabilitate the injury could hypothetically have Inglis back on the field by Round 20 and ready for the Bunnies finals’ charge, I call shenanigans.
The diagnosis of his injury should be the fundamental determiner in the NRL decision on South Sydney’s application.
That diagnosis would determine whether Greg Inglis is incapable of playing rugby league due to a crippling injury or merely a player who sees the long haul back to full fitness as a road he is unwilling to travel at this stage of his career.
That question lies at the heart of the decision on the potential salary cap relief that, considering the NRL’s support of Inglis in the past, will almost certainly be granted to the Bunnies.
As glorious and heralded as Inglis’ career has been, this final chapter is just a little on the nose and the Pandora’s Box it opens will be examined and potentially exploited by other clubs in the near future.