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NRL prepared to condone violence for the 'good of the game'?

Paul Gallen may be lining up for his final Origin match. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
Roar Pro
6th June, 2013
131
2140 Reads

I know I am in the minority of NSW fans condemning the actions of Paul Gallen as unacceptable. But that’s the problem.

Maroons coach Mal Meninga and skipper Cameron Smith said they were happy for the incident to be left to officials.

But if Paul Gallen is to be believed, officials are powerless to stop Nate Myles’ bullying, both by his leading with the head and his knee-twisting.

Otherwise, Gallen wouldn’t have needed to take matters into his own hands, first with a swinging arm and then with several punches to the head.

Do you remember when the Commonwealth Ombudsman gave questions to Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young?

Then Commonwealth Ombudsman Allan Asher said he had to do it because there was no other way to publicly raise his concerns about inadequate funding for the Ombudsman’s Office – so he had to take matters into his own hands.

I know it’s unfair to compare Paul Gallen to someone who can read, but is the same true of the National Rugby League?

Is there nowhere else for NSW’s elite footballers to go through official channels to have issues and complaints of this nature dealt with?

Knee-twisting and headbutting are very serious after all, career or season ending, so something should be done – but is the NRL powerless to respond?

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Are players voiceless victims in the face of bullying and dirty tactics? Is this why Paul Gallen had to punch Nate Myles in the head?

According to Paul Gallen’s first defence, yes.

“He’s been getting my knee and twisting it after every tackle,” Gallen told referee Ashley Klein, who promised to keep an eye out.

“He’s been doing it series after series. Headbutting and twisting,” Gallen added.

So if the referees didn’t see any of that behaviour tonight, they should go back and watch old tapes and then see why, after years of abuse, and nothing being done by the NSWRL, the NSW coaching staff, the NRL or any of the on field referees or touch judges, Paul Gallen – as the Erin Brockovich of the NSW Blues – had to take on the impossible battle the only way he can, by repeatedly punching Nate Myles in the head.

In Gallen’s defence, it’s happening a lot around Australia at the moment. Assaults permanently damage the brains of at least 3,500 Australians every year.

3,500 people – with permanent brain damage, resulting from assaults. Obviously there is a lot of bullying, dirty tactics and impotent authority out there.

The frequency of people dying after assaults in public is something that many believe has reached epidemic proportions.

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The state of Queensland has introduced an anti-crime program called ‘One Punch Can Kill’ to try and teach young people about the potentially devastating impact of violence on your own life and that of others.

Western Australia introduced new one-punch laws, allowing the judge the discretion to sentence an offender of the one-punch deaths to a maximum prison term of 10 years.

Some of you may recall an incident in which David Hookes died after being punched by a bouncer.

Or you might recall former NRL star Craig Field being involved in an incident where one punch totally changed the outcome of the rest of his life and ended someone else’s.

News.com.au called it an epidemic and responded by creating a ‘Real Heroes Walk Away’ campaign.

In their investigation of 175 ‘sucker punches’, they found that 27 percent of cases were enacted by someone who is a member of a football association.

But forget about that, all praise to Paul Gallen for teaching us that if real heroes walk away, then realer heroes stay and punch on.

If you’re being bullied, the best thing to do kids is to take matters into your own hands and get punching, just like Uncle Paul.

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For the people of Papua New Guinea, there is an organisation called: Rugby League Against Violence, dedicated to stopping family and domestic violence.

By using the heroes of rugby league, they educate people in Papua New Guinea communities that violence, especially towards women, but violence in all its forms is unacceptable.

That is, unless, of course you have a good reason, or feel wronged by someone, or it’s an important occasion (like Origin), or you’re especially passionate (because it’s Origin) – then the message is very clear: there are obviously situations where a few punches in the head are okay.

Obviously, given the NRL’s commitment to such things, Gallen’s behaviour has shocked everyone, he’s been labelled a mindless thug by both sides, and others in rugby league aren’t endorsing his behaviour, especially not those in positions of authority.

Well, apart from Laurie Daley, himself a superstar but also a role model and newly appointed coach of NSW. He called it a “great Origin moment.”

Oh, and then there was Cameron Williams and company on Nine – they talked about “bringing back the biff” and how it wouldn’t be Origin without “the biff”, so we all need to understand that Origin is just different.

The Sydney Morning Herald gave Gallen’s performance an 8.5 out of 10, calling it a “Typical captain’s knock from the inspirational leader.”

And it must have been. North Queenland’s Tariq Sims tweeted “Gal, that’s passion right there!”, Canberra’s Sandor Earl tweeted “Yesss Gal”, while former NSW second-rower tweeted, ‘It’s not a club game boys…it’s Origin!”

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I must be alone in my views, as a New South Welshman. The newspapers this morning have reported that the sell-out crowd cheered when a replay on the big screen showed Gallen landing blows on Myles.

But then even Myles himself said, “How good is it? Let’s be honest, everyone wants to see it. I don’t think he should get charged. That’s just the way it goes.”

Post-match, Gallen said that punching Myles in the head and the swinging arm were a sort of “compliment” to the opposing forward.

“Nate has probably been the dominant forward in Origin over the past two or three years, he was player of the series last year,” Gallen said.

“I don’t have to tell you some of the things he’s done to our players.

“He’s been very dominant and we didn’t want to be pushed around. That’s all there is to it.”

The second defence, he did it to end Myles bullying and dominance.

That’s all there is? It’s just the way it goes? Really?

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Was Gallen’s performance, or that of the NSW team lacking something? Sure, he didn’t play 80 minutes, but were his 21 runs for 187 metres and other on field efforts not dominant enough?

The NSW team had the three pronged NSW kicking game of Robbie Farah, James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce and the great tries of Jennings and Hayne.

Sure that was all good, but without the captain of the side punching an opposing player in the head a few times, Queensland might have thought they’d won?

Now, to quote Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?!”

Thankfully, Steve Renouf tweeted: “So now kids can go out this week end and king hit another kid on the footy field with no repercussion. Thanks NRL referees?”

The answer to Steve’s question is a resounding ‘yes’.

But come on Steve, the captain of NSW, in one of the NRL’s most watched flagship events, punched his opponent several times in the face.

But you heard what he said, he had to. And yes, the coach of NSW said it was “a great moment”.

But don’t worry, I doubt that the NRL, who through their five-year plan have invested $200 million dollars of their own money in community engagement and junior development projects, I doubt they will let this violence be tolerated and that investment squandered.

You’ve read the dot points!

After all, let’s remember, the NRL is big business. According to its strategic plan, it is built on one belief: “Rugby league is the greatest game of all.”

Well the strategy says that but apparently for many, the game is just okay. To make it great, you need a few punches to the head, especially in the “big games”.

You know the ones where the best players the game, the supreme athletes, with the most amazing abilities, some of whom are the best we’ve ever seen play the game.

Well, at those times especially, according to many involved, these are the games most in need of violence to really showcase what the game is all about.

It’s the head punching that makes it great, that’s what we want the kids aspiring to be.

But it’s not all about the kids, except that, according to the NRL, it actually, sort of is. The Origin broadcast even started with an eight-year old boy reflecting on how important rugby league is to him.

He described every series he’d seen, how he’d never seen NSW win a series, but he longed for the day when they did.

Well, last night he saw the first step towards that being a reality, and he learned that it requires, passion, professionalism, self belief and sometimes, you just have to punch another human being in the head, just to really show them who’s boss.

But that was just part of the Channel Nine pre game beat up, surely?

Actually, it’s a massive part of the NRL’s strategy: community engagement and selling the game to kids and their parents.

Partly as a way of cementing its future players and supporters, but also as a means of accessing money from governments and corporations through ‘partnerships’.

A big part of ensuring the NRL get that government and corporate money over other sports and events is about how good they are at convincing people that rugby league is a professional, responsible and inclusive sport.

The mission for the NRL, believe it or not, it to: “bring people together and enrich their lives.”

So, part of that “enriching” must come from strategically letting players punch each other in the head?

It doesn’t exactly say that in the strategic plan, it says stuff like:

– Elite players will be acknowledged as role models
– Rugby league will be seen by parents as a safe choice for children
– A new values-based national code of conduct will be promoted emphasising sportsmanship and behaviour on and off the field

It also says it will change the culture of the game by:

– Being prepared to make a difference by leading change
– Standing up for our beliefs and empowering others to do the same
– Valuing the importance of every decision and every action
– Inspiring the highest standards in ourselves and others

Again, obviously, all very supportive of Gallen’s new role as Dr Punchy – delivering his medicine when and where required to ensure everyone in the NSW team is looked after.

Those dot points also totally back up the comments from people like Laurie Daley and others.

But the NRL won’t stand idly by and let Gallen’s violence go unpunished. They will want to send a clear message.

Or, maybe just a grade two charge, with a one-week suspension if Gallen doesn’t contest it, two weeks out if he fights it – and if there is one thing we know about Gallen it’s that he is all about fighting and justice.

The NRL is sending a clear message: a few punches in the head and a swinging arm to the head, doesn’t even warrant a slap on the wrist.

More importantly, the punishment will mean that Gallen will be there in Origin II, hopefully so he can show more passion and leadership, maybe on someone else’s face next time?

I might be wrong, and you can keep the biff if you want, but think about what you might be losing.

If you truly “value the importance of every decision and actions”, you’ve got some decisions to make and some actions to take.

Some might not be happy, but that’s part of “being prepared to make a difference by leading change.”

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