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(Reuters) - Australian rugby league players and coaches called for a greater share of revenues from the National Rugby League (NRL) after the competition signed a landmark $1 billion TV rights deal.
The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC), the NRL's governing body, announced a A$1.025 billion ($1.08 billion) deal on Tuesday with the free-to-air Nine Network and pay TV provider Foxtel to broadcast the 16-team competition for five seasons from 2013.
The deal cemented the NRL as the richest rugby league competition in the world and heats up the sport's battle with Australian Rules, the indigenous football code, for supremacy in the country's crowded sports market.
Having struck the deal after months of protracted negotiations, the ARLC faces another tortuous round of talks with players and clubs over how the spoils should be shared.
"I don't know too much about figures and how that's going to get divided up but as players we just want to get a fair share," Wests Tigers skipper Robbie Farah told Australian media on Wednesday.
"We want to get the minimum wage up and there's other issues like income protection insurance for players who get injured.
"Hopefully now the game's set itself up for the next five years and not just the players but the clubs and grassroots."
Manly coach Geoff Toovey was full of praise for the ARLC, but, like Farah, stressed the importance of spreading the money wisely.
"We need to make sure our game's got a bright future ... that's more important as anything else," Toovey said.
"As long as it's re-invested in the right areas, which I'm sure it will be because the clubs have to have that sustainability about them as well.
"The clubs are under pressure and so to help flourish the game the investment needs to be in the grassroots as well."
The deal doubled the NRL's previous A$500 million agreement signed in 2005, underlining the game's mainstream popularity in Australia and soaring domestic TV audience.
It fell short of the Australian Football League's (AFL) five-year $1.25 billion contract with the free-to-air Seven Network and Foxtel to broadcast the top-flight Australian Rules competition from 2012-2016.
But it was worth more "pound for pound", according to Nine Network boss David Gyngell.
"As a television executive, they (NRL) have struck a better deal in total than the AFL," said Gyngell, whose network made a losing bid for the 18-team AFL broadcast deal.
"(NRL) is the best sporting code on TV. It has the best ratings. We're in good shape to give the AFL a run for their money."
Australian Rules has traditionally dominated the country's southern states, but has made concerted efforts to encroach into rugby league's territory in recent years, spending some A$200 million to set up a new team in northeastern Queensland state and another in Sydney.
The AFL also lured two of the NRL's brightest young talents with big-money deals to be the poster-boys for the league's newest franchises, prompting hand-wringing among rugby league fans.
South Sydney fullback Greg Inglis, one of the NRL's most high-profile players, said the deal would make rugby league's best and brightest think twice about swapping codes.
"I was just talking to a few of the boys about it now ... how the big-name players, they're not going to be leaving the code early anymore," he told local media.
"We're going to see a lot of guys re-signing to stay in rugby league."
($1 = 0.9523 Australian dollars)
Reporting by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by Ian Ransom