Players are only human, but drugs are bad for rugby league

Greg Prichard Columnist

By , Greg Prichard is a Roar Expert

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    They’ll be back playing NRL on Thursday night, but given the past week’s happenings, does anyone give a rat’s?

    Of course they do, but if anyone wanted to discuss the delights of rugby league in the purest sense this week they have so far been drowned out by the noise coming from the only discussion in town.

    The one about drugs.

    At times like this, there is always the debate over whether drugs are a league problem or a societal problem.

    But there really is no need for a debate, because the answer to both questions is so clearly yes.

    Obviously, drugs are a societal problem because of the massive damage they do to people, and that can affect league along with countless other walks of life.

    They are specifically a rugby league problem because when you get the sort of incidents that have occurred in the last week, it damages the game.

    As nauseating as the use of the word might be, it hurts the game’s ‘brand’. The negative publicity affects the game’s ability to attract sponsorship.

    Ben Barba crossing for a try

    (AAP Image/David Moir)

    And, although I’ve got no evidence to support this, I’ll wager it’s another reason for some parents who are undecided about which sport little Johnny plays, and are already worried about the potential for him to get hurt, to pick, say, football over league.

    It’s a bad look when players are getting into drug-related trouble, but when a club chairman in his 50s is charged with drug possession it’s positively embarrassing.

    The fact the game and its clubs hand out their own strenuous penalties in reaction to drug-related incidents, on top of what might happen in the courts, defines it as a league problem.

    The debate is just a distraction, but one thing that must be said on the game’s behalf is that it does its utmost to educate the players.

    They can’t not be aware of what risks are involved, but some players are obviously still prepared to take those risks. As the old saying goes, you can’t educate mugs.

    New Zealand Test players Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor have been dealt with very firmly, having been kicked out of their country’s World Cup campaign later this year on top of club sanctions.

    But they’ve only got themselves to blame. Had they not put themselves in a stupid position they wouldn’t have anything to worry about.

    Jesse Bromwich New Zealand Kiwis Rugby League Anzac Test 2017

    (NRL Photos)

    It’s the same for others who have made mistakes during this period, but will the stiff penalties and media glare scare off every other player who might be susceptible to taking similar risks?

    It will presumably be a major deterrent in the short term, but players are only human and humans make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect.

    When a club gets caught cheating the salary cap and is hit with huge penalties it doesn’t mean it’s the end of that practice. Eventually, another club pushes the envelope too far and gets caught.

    Why would it be any different with players and drugs? Sooner or later, someone else will stuff up.

    But the game itself will never be perfect either. For a start, it’s happy to take the gambling dollar. That’s a whole other debate right there.

    Greg Prichard
    Greg Prichard

    Greg Prichard has spent all of his working life in the media, from way back when journalists were still using typewriters. He has covered rugby league, football, AFL and various other sports for News Limited and Fairfax newspapers and also worked for magazines, radio and pay television. Twitter: @gregprichard

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