SYDNEY (AFP) – Six months ago, they were playing one of the biggest games of their careers, but now stars of Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) are working as builders and plumbers after the coronavirus shutdown forced them to find new jobs.
Several members of the Sydney Roosters, who won the grand final against the Canberra Raiders in October, are among the players back “on the tools” as they try to pay bills and mortgages after the season was suspended.
Players from the NRL, one of Australia’s most popular sports, are facing hefty pay cuts this year after the pandemic shuttered sport worldwide and left the league battling for survival.
“Some of them are looking for jobs… some of them are on the tools already,” Roosters coach Trent Robinson told radio station Triple M.
“Plumber, builder. There’s lots of jobs that have been thrown out there for the guys, and they’re still continuing to look.
“They know they’re going to have some time. They know they’ve got to train, but after that they’re looking to get back into some of their old trades.”
It is a similar story for players across the 16-team NRL, which came to a screeching halt after two rounds – one played behind closed doors – last month.
The NRL, cash-strapped despite its immense popularity and ubiquitous media presence, strongly resisted closure before anti-virus measures made it impossible to play on.
On Thursday, the NRL and the players’ association agreed on an emergency deal under which players will lose five months’ pay this year if the 2020 season is abandoned.
The league’s suspension has meant a dizzying turnaround for the players, especially the Roosters, who were celebrating their grand final win.
Now, Roosters lock Victor Radley is plying his trade as a carpenter, while Elliott Whitehead is driving a tractor and his Raiders teammate Jack Wighton posted on Instagram looking for work.
Elsewhere, Brisbane Broncos prop Thomas Flegler is working on his family’s banana farm, earning just A$24.60 (S$21.33) an hour, according to a report.
“I can’t really do much in Brisbane so I decided I would get home to see my family and try and make some money while we aren’t playing,” Flegler told Brisbane’s Sunday Mail.
“I start work on Monday. I’m on the minimum wage. Dad said, ‘You are only a beginner, so you aren’t worth more than the award wage.’ “
Broncos great Corey Parker said some players had moved in together to save on rent while the sport waits out Covid-19.
“I know some of our guys have actually moved out of the units they were currently renting and bunkered in with other guys because they quite simply can’t pay the rent,” Parker told Fox League Live.
Roosters recruit Josh Morris, a veteran with 288 NRL appearances across several clubs, said he was retraining and could soon be back in the workforce.
“For myself, I’ve played the game long enough to have some money put away,” said Morris, according to Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.
“But I also have mortgages that I have to pay as well.
“I’m doing a carpentry course at TAFE (technical college) at the moment and could end up on the tools at the end of the year, it’s a very real prospect.”
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