As the NRL continues to deal with the fallout from the Four Corners program, aired on Monday night, one issue has yet to be discussed. This issue has the most serious ramifications for the future of the game.
That is the role of a senior player. On and off the field, it is time for the senior players to stand up and be leaders for themselves and the game.
The Macquarie Dictionary defines a senior as “of higher ranking and standing, by virtue of longer service.” This definition implies a greater sense of responsibility, something that seems to be lacking in the NRL as a whole at the moment.
This is certainly not the case for the majority of NRL players. There are some exceptional role models, both in the past and present, who are a great credit to the game. It is the actions of a few, which regrettably have tarnished the game’s image.
The unnamed player, who was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald today, said “I don’t know how a chief executive can come out and say we can’t have group sex if it’s consensual. It’s like discrimination because that is a person’s private life”, clearly wasn’t thinking. He went further and suggested that women usually initiate group sex with the players.
If this is the prevailing attitude that players share, then Rugby League is in for a torrid future. The game can only hope that this was an isolated incident. These quotes, by an established representative star, are not the actions of a senior player.
Surely the players realise that speaking on the condition of anonymity is not the way to endear themselves to the public in the present climate.
Players cannot use the excuse, that they have never been a senior member of the side before, either. All first graders started their playing career for junior clubs and their respective school sides. Because of their talent to score tries and tackle, they were undoubtedly feted, and their teammates looked up to them.
This raises the question: is seniority earned? Or is it a product of the environment and culture that a player is exposed to?
Some players mature faster then others in terms of leadership and responsibility. Nathan Cayless has been captain of Parramatta since 2000, at the tender age of 21.
Not all players are suitable captaincy candidates. Only 16 men can hold that position each winter weekend. However, all players can become positive role models, simply by considering their own actions.
Clubs often speak about how a ‘winning’ culture is often fostered. How about a culture where responsibility is encouraged?
Senior players are the ones teammates look to on the weekend when the pressure is on. They lift for the occasion and make the game changing tackle, or in the modern game, gain valuable metres from a kick or a dummy-half run.
Their presence inspires the younger players to lift their game to the next level. Players have no reservations about adapting into this role on the field, but they don’t seem to be able to strive to the same levels off it.
Nobody is asking them to be saints, but whether they like it or not, they are public figures by virtue of their profile. Senior players are what ultimately define a clubs culture. Often that culture disappears when that respected player moves on. Think Cronulla with the retirement of Andrew Ettingshausen and Mitch Healey, or more recently Manly without Steve Menzies.
It is time for the senior players to lift their game, both on and off the field.