Daly Cherry-Evans’ reign atop the NRL Rich 100 is officially over. The Manly and Queensland captain has made way for Nathan Cleary as the Penrith Panthers talisman becomes the highest paid player in rugby league.
News Corp can reveal that Cleary, currently sidelined after being suspended for a dangerous pitch a fortnight ago, will earn $1.3 million this season, moving him ahead of Cherry-Evans on the millionaire line of rugby league.
It’s hard to argue with his lofty position given the way he’s played in recent years. The NRL Rich 100 has a handful of players who probably don’t deserve to be among the game’s elite, but you can’t argue with Cleary’s rise to the top.
FULL LIST: CHECK OUT THE NRL RICH 100 BELOW
The Penrith captain has been the shining light in a Panthers side that have dominated the NRL for the past two years, culminating in their Premiership win last season and taking them back to the top of the ladder this year, n ‘having lost only three games in the deal
Cleary’s ascension to the throne was uncovered as part of News Corp’s extensive investigation into the salaries of the game’s key players, after speaking to club officials, players’ agents and hiring managers.
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There are 22 new entrants to the NRL Rich 100 and four new faces in the top 10 – Cleary, Jesse Bromwich, Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses.
Cleary jumped from 11th to No. 1 thanks to a significant contract increase that sees him pass Cherry-Evans, the longtime leader in player payouts.
Cleary has well and truly rewarded the Panthers with his efforts on the field. People are sure to tell you he’s the best player in the game. Now he gets paid like that.
LISTEN: Phil Rothfield, Brent Read and David Riccio discuss the NRL Rich 100’s biggest revelations – Nathan Cleary’s rise to the top, big movers and clubs under salary cap pressure.
However, having just left Cherry-Evans in its wake, News Corp may reveal its passing as the money man of the game will be short-lived.
Cleary has another year with plenty of cash before his selfless sacrifice of money kicks in. As part of the five-year extension Cleary agreed to with the Panthers earlier this year, he signed a cut salary to ensure that the club would be able to surround him with quality in the years to come.
Had Cleary been successful, the pay cut would have been immediately implemented. However, those plans have been scuppered by the NRL and a rule which prevents contracts from being reduced once they have been signed, even if the player concerned agrees to a new deal.
This means that Cleary’s salary reduction will take effect when the expansion begins in 2024. In the meantime, Cleary can enjoy the role of the game’s salary cap supremo for the next two years.
Of the other new faces in the top 10, the most surprising are Bromwich and Brooks.
Bromwich, who will join the Dolphins next year, is in the final year of a deal he signed with the Storm when he was arguably considered the game’s first prop.
He remains a true leader in Melbourne and one of their most consistent players, and his departure will be felt at the end of the season.
FULL LIST: CHECK OUT THE NRL RICH 100 BELOW
Brooks is perhaps more controversial, despite entering the penultimate year of a big contract he signed several years ago.
The final year in 2023 is worth more than $1 million, although it remains to be seen who takes the bill as Newcastle continue to circle Brooks as they look to end their search for a halfback. .
The man they’re all after is Cleary. The Panthers co-captain is currently serving a suspension for his errant spear tackle on Parramatta’s Dylan Brown, but prior to his ban Cleary had been in devastating contact for the Panthers.
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In 14 appearances this season, the 24-year-old had forced 15 retirements and contributed 14 assists and 12 assists. In his absence, the Panthers succumbed in Melbourne on Thursday night at home as they were held scoreless for the first time in nearly a decade.
Cleary’s value to the club was clear to all, Cherry-Evans is still in the top 10, slipping to No 2 as he nears the end of the mega-deal he signed in 2015, from a worth more than $10 million over eight years.
I recently extended that contract for two years and am joined in the top 10 by my teammate Tom Trbojevic. After Cleary and Cherry-Evans, the other members of the top five are St George Illawarra skipper Ben Hunt, Newcastle superstar Kalyn Ponga and Sydney Roosters captain James Tedesco.
Originally published as NRL Rich 100: Which Broncos, Cowboys, Titans are on the rugby league big money list?