NRL Rich 100: Which Broncos, Cowboys, Titans make rugby league's big-money list?

NRL Rich 100: Which Broncos, Cowboys, Titans make rugby league’s big-money list?

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 throw a fortnight ago, will earn $1.3 million this season, taking him past Cherry-Evans on rugby league’s millionaire’s row.

It is hard to argue with his lofty position given the way he has performed in recent years. The NRL Rich 100 has a smattering of players who probably don’t deserve to be among the game’s elite but you can’t dispute Cleary’s climb to the apex.


The Penrith captain has been the shining light in a Panthers side that has 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, having lost only three games in the process.

Cleary’s ascent to the throne has been uncovered as part of an extensive News Corp investigation into the pay packets of the game’s leading players, having spoken to club officials, player agents and recruitment chiefs.

NRL Rich 100: The Origin stars snubbed from list

There are 22 new entrants in the NRL Rich 100 and four fresh faces in the top 10 — Cleary, Jesse Bromwich, Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses.

Clearly has moved from 11th spot to No.1 thanks to a significant increase in his deal that takes him past Cherry-Evans, the long-time leader when it comes to player pay.

Clearly he has well and truly repaid the Panthers with his efforts on the field. No shortage of people will tell you he is the best player in the game. Now he is being paid like it.

LISTEN: Phil Rothfield, Brent Read and David Riccio discuss the biggest revelations from the NRL Rich 100 — Nathan Cleary’s rise to the top, the big movers and the clubs under salary cap pressure.

However, having only just left Cherry-Evans in his wake, News Corp can reveal his stint as the game’s marquee money man will be short-lived.

Clearly he has one more year on the big bucks before his selfless sacrifice of cash kicks in. As part of the five-year extension Cleary agreed with the Panthers earlier this year, he signed off on a pay cut to ensure the club would be able to surround him with quality in coming years.

If Cleary had his way, the pay cut would have kicked in straight away. However, those plans were scuppered by the NRL and a rule that prevents contracts being reduced once they have been signed, even if the player concerned agrees to a new deal.

It means Cleary’s pay cut takes effect when the extension begins in 2024. In the meantime, Cleary can enjoy the mantle as the game’s salary cap supreme 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 that he signed with the Storm when he was arguably regarded as the premier prop in the game.

He remains a genuine leader at Melbourne and one of their most consistent players, and his departure will be felt at the end of the season.


Brooks is perhaps more controversial, although he is entering the penultimate year of a big deal he signed several years ago.

The final year in 2023 is worth more than $1 million, although it remains to be seen who picks up the tab as Newcastle continue to circle Brooks as they look to end their search for a halfback.

The man they are all chasing is Clearly. The Panthers co-captain is serving a suspension at the moment for his errant spear tackle on Parramatta’s Dylan Brown but prior to his ban, Cleary had been in devastating touch for the Panthers.

Stream every game of every round of the 2022 NRL Telstra Premiership Season Live & Ad-Break Free During Play on Kayo. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >

Through 14 appearances this season, the 24-year-old had forced 15 dropouts, and contributed 14 try assists and 12 linebreak assists. In his absence from him, the Panthers succumbed to 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 for all to see, Cherry-Evans remains a part of the top 10, sliding to No.2 as he nears the end of the mega-deal he signed in 2015, worth upwards of $10 million over eight years.

He recently extended that deal for a further two years and is joined in the top 10 by 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.