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Graham: Players would consider pay cuts if games cancelled

Health before money is the view of senior St George Illawarra players as they contemplate the possibility of pay cuts should the competition need to be stopped due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

While James Graham and Issac Luke are happy to continue playing for as long as possible, Trent Merrin shares the opinion of Melbourne captain Cameron Smith that all NRL matches should be suspended immediately.

However, the players are united in their desire to ensure the survival of the game and said they would be willing to accept pay cuts, if necessary.

"We might not have a choice," Graham said. "You don’t have to be very good at maths to figure out that something might have to change.

"You can’t go getting paid all your money and the game goes bust. I can’t imagine any player having that sort of attitude."

Luke, who has joined the Dragons this season from the Warriors, said he probably would have returned home to New Zealand if he had still been with his former club rather than stay in Australia away from his family.

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"In the end it has to come down to all the heads [of the NRL] sitting down and talking about what is best for the game," Luke said. "There’s no TV rights if we don’t have a game so I guess whatever they come up with I am supportive of."

Merrin feels strongly that the competition should stop as his partner, Jessica Watson, is due to give birth to their first child this week.

The former NSW forward believes the NRL should go further than playing matches in closed stadiums to comply with the Federal Government ban on public gatherings of more than 500 people.

"I think if you go home to young families and you could be passing it on, it is a health matter," Merrin said.

"If there are risks to your health I think that comes first.

"It’s not that we don’t want to play the game, we love playing the game, but we are just like every other human out there. If the fans are being protected from it why shouldn’t the players be protected from it, especially if they are coming contact to contact with one another. We’re at risk as well.

"I know that probably puts the game in a difficult position, I understand that 100 per cent, but everything else aside we are human beings at the end of the day and health comes first."

Asked if he had considered standing down, Merrin said the decision was one for the game’s hierarchy but "my heart lays in protecting my family".

"I know that it is a tricky situation because the business is under threat and there are a lot of repercussions that can come from it and we don’t want to see that as well in the game," he said.

"But at the end of the day it is a health decision, it is not a marketing decision or a business decision. It’s bigger than the game at the moment.

"We have got to combat this together, we are a brand, we are a network and we have got to look out for one another."

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Graham said the players could draw inspiration from the way people in communities on the NSW South Coast supported each other after the recent bushfire devastation.

If players were required to take pay cuts, Graham suggested those earning big money would be likely to take a bigger cut than their teammates on minimum wage.

"Would everyone take the same percentage, you have got to presume not," he said. "Obviously that would affect everyone differently but this isn’t just rugby league, it is all members of society who are probably staring this in the face.

"From a player’s point of view, if there is a restructure in payment the RLPA would take over. Nothing has been discussed as yet but if we were to get there I would guess that the players would look to look after each other."

Acknowledgement of Country

St George Illawarra Dragons respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples, where our games are played, our programs are conducted and in the communities we support.

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