It’s rare that I see an NRL headline that makes my stomach do a backflip. It’s even rarer that I read the full story and still feel sick to my stomach.
But last week, when the NRL released a statement saying ‘Tim Simona deregistered’, I did genuinely feel sick.
The Integrity Unit found that Simona had:
• Breached the rules of the NRL by betting on matches;
• Bet on opposition players scoring and also against his team (the Wests Tigers) winning;
• Sold rugby league jerseys through online auctions for charity and then not passed on the proceeds to the nominated charity;
• Been dishonest in his dealings with the Integrity Unit.
Simona’s story is an extremely sad one, with some very personal ramifications.
Imagine what his teammates feel like? This side missed the finals by one point last year. How many of his Tigers teammates would be wondering whether the 32 tackles that Tim missed in the 21 games he played led to points being scored against them, and what impact that had on final results.
So much of what a team is able to achieve on the field is based on trust. Sport is an arena where mateship is celebrated and a team is only as strong as its collective parts. For the Tigers to have learnt that one of their own teammates was working against them must be devastating. Many would be angry and hurting, particularly given the dedication and hard work put into preparing for matches every week.
What about his coach, Jason Taylor, who was under intense pressure last year? Was Simona’s defensive performance ever called into question? If so, imagine your frustration as a coach knowing that, despite practicing defence in training and not understanding why it wasn’t clicking on the field, the reason it wasn’t working is because one of your players was acting in a way which was detrimental to his team.
Then there are the fans. As a fan, I cannot imagine behaving in a way which could potentially cost my team points on the field (think about the behaviour of Western Sydney Wanderers fans in the past). To know that one of my players could have potentially cost my team a finals berth and was behaving in a manner which hurt the team I support so passionately is disgusting to me.
Despite my disappointment and the disgust which I’m feeling in regard to what Tim has done, I truly believe rugby league is a family and that the NRL still has a responsibility to ensure that even though Tim is no longer playing football, he is provided with the care and support he needs at this time.
So often young men are encouraged into a life of playing football from a very young age. They are taught when to eat, how to train and can be the sole breadwinner for their families. Players are human beings and make mistakes, and I am a believer in people being given second chances (particularly in rugby league, where so many players I respect have had the opportunity to redeem themselves, like Jake Friend, Danny Wicks and Manu Ma’u).
This absolutely does not excuse Tim’s conduct, but we as a game have a responsibility to continue to educate our players about the difference between right and wrong, and to have programs in place so that support our players on and off the field. The NRL does this exceptionally well through the ‘CAREERWISE’, ‘CHARACTERWISE’ and the ‘HEALTHWISE’ programs.
We must never forget the responsibility we have towards the men and women that play our game, and I was pleased to hear that the NRL is continuing to offer Tim welfare services and monitor his well-being. The Rugby League Players Association also has an important, continuing role in this process.
Todd Greenberg commented last week, “Based on the evidence we have identified it is very hard to imagine that Tim Simona will be registered with the NRL at any time in the future.”
Listening to the Triple M team commentate the game between the Melbourne Storm and the New Zealand Warriors on Friday night, Ryan Girdler said that Simona may one day have the opportunity to return to the NRL. He qualified this by saying it would take several years and some time away from the game, but the suggestion was certainly there that a return was possible.
However, I cannot imagine any team taking a chance on Tim when the strength of the collective is where the power of a team comes from.
According to the NRL, Tim made it clear in several text messages that he knew that he was doing the wrong thing and had an understanding of the consequences.
He did it anyway.
This is not a team player and a person that any team would have extreme difficulty in trusting.
I hope what has happened to Tim is an example to other players of the serious consequences of behaviour which compromises the integrity of the game.
I also hope, although there has been no suggestion yet that this will happen, that this will prompt Australian sports to once again consider the wide array of betting options available to punters on a daily basis. The more exotic the gambling options, the less surprised we should be that this sort of behaviour continues to come to light.