This article looks at the salaries of rugby players at the Chiefs franchise in New Zealand. The team was originally known as the Waikato Chiefs.
It’s true that individual salaries are private contracts. However, the general salary ranges for Super Rugby are made public by New Zealand Rugby.
In addition, contract details often trickle out about the star players at the franchise. We take a close look at two Chiefs who have also captained the All Blacks, namely Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane.
How Do Chiefs Players Get Paid?
Before we get into average and top salaries, let’s take a look at how the Chiefs get paid.
New Zealand is different from many other countries where the clubs foot the wage bill for players.
In contrast, New Zealand Rugby (NZR) employs and pays the salaries of their Super Rugby players. NZR then contracts the players to the Chiefs roster.
There isn’t a single wage level for players. NZR negotiates pay rates with each player or their agent.
However, we know the approximate ranges which I’ll get into in a later section.
Brand deals and advertising
Brand deals and image rights are worth very different amounts across players.
Some work with national brands e.g. the big sports or retail companies.
However, there are other opportunities for lesser-known Chiefs who haven’t made the All Blacks. If you travel through the region, you’ll probably see local players in local advertising.
Of course, this isn’t going to be for big dollars, but it’s very welcome for those players at the lower end of the salary range.
The Hamilton franchise is allowed to seek extra funding or individual players from third parties. Every deal must be approved by NZR.
These third parties are usually businesses in the region that want to be associated with star players.
At least two Chiefs get the benefit of these top-ups. We’ll review the numbers in a later section.
What makes up a Chiefs player’s salary?
Their entire salary can be made up of several income streams. These must all be reported to the NZR to ensure that salary caps aren’t being exceeded by franchises.
- Monthly wage from New Zealand Rugby
- Win bonuses and some expenses from the Chiefs franchise*
- Image rights and endorsements
- International tests with the All Blacks
- Third-party top-ups (only a few players benefit from these)
(*) Additional payments from the franchise must be kept within the national salary cap that governs the five New Zealand Super Rugby teams.
How Much Do Chiefs Players Earn?
Chiefs players earn from NZ$75K to NZ$195K as a base salary.
Chiefs who are selected for All Black squads can earn an extra $120K per year in assembly fees.
A small number of star players with third-party funding earn up to NZ$500-600K.
Development players earn about $52K.
Individual salaries are negotiated with New Zealand Rugby who pays a retainer to players and contracts them to the franchise.
Young players on their first Chiefs contract will earn at least $75K, which is the bottom of the scale. This will rise over the years.
The players at the top end are experienced players who have been involved in at least some All Blacks squads.
As players approach the end of their careers, their salaries may drop towards the middle of the range. This can lead to them seeking a move to another franchise, or overseas.
If a player is drafted in from a regional club as injury cover, they are paid a weekly wage of about NZ$1,800 for the duration.
A full season amounts to about $52K but the player may not be required for that length of time.
Don’t be shocked if you hear someone mention that they work with a Chiefs player who you see on the bench for a Super Rugby match. That’s probably a draft player who has a “real” job as their second income.
Who Are The Highest Paid Chiefs Players?
The Chiefs have two stars, Retallick and Cane, who are amongst the highest-paid players in the country.
Brodie Retallick negotiated a long-term deal with NZR that allowed him to leave for two seasons for a lucrative contract in Japan.
His deal at the Kobe Steelers was reportedly worth NZ$1.3M per season.
Retallick returned to New Zealand in 2022 to join the Chiefs on a significant pay cut. His salary while at the Chiefs is reputed to be about NZ$750K.
This package includes significant amounts of third-party funding.
Because Sam Cane hasn’t moved clubs or countries, there are sparse details out there about his salary levels. He and his agent quietly negotiate at the end of each contract term.
We are sure that he’s at the top end of earners at the Chiefs, and are also sure that he’s earning a little less than Brodie Retallick.
How do you compare the value of an outstanding lock versus an outstanding flanker? Statistics published in Europe show that second rows get paid more than back rows.
However, Cane has confirmed in an interview that captains of the All Blacks get a pay bonus. He has taken that role several times during his career.
We estimate Cane’s annual package to be about NZ$600-650K per year.
How Much Do Chiefs Earn With The All Blacks?
When a Chiefs player is called up to the All Blacks, they get a weekly fee of $7,500 for the tour or competition.
You can get the more details in our article on New Zealand rugby salaries. You may be surprised how low the All Blacks pay compared to England!
How Do The Chiefs Compare To Other Super Rugby Franchises?
We’ll start with the other New Zealand franchises and then look across at the neighbors.
New Zealand franchises
We mentioned that New Zealand Rugby control the salaries for most Super Rugby players. They must also sign off on the additional top-ups by third parties to indiviudal stars.
This means that the average salary range across the New Zealand franchises are similar, but the stars can earn every different amounts. You’ll find more details in these articles:
Due to the salary cap in Australia, the average wages of Australian rugby players tend to be similar.
However, the top earners at each franchise and their packages are very different. Check out these articles for details about stars at the clubs:
- Brumbies player salaries
- Melbourne Rebels player salaries
- Queensland Reds player salaries
- Waratahs player salaries
- Western Force player salaries
How Do The Chiefs Compare To Other Countries?
The Chiefs have lost many good players to overseas clubs. Check out these articles about the salary levels overseas:
If you’re interested in a particular club, you’ll find a link to a detailed article in the above articles.