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What does NRL really stand for? Not Really Likeable

Debbie Spillane Columnist

By Debbie Spillane, Debbie Spillane is a Roar Expert


128 Have your say

Popular article! 4,590 reads

    I know we’re only into the third week of the NRL season but honestly, I feel like it’s been going for months already.

    And in my head at the moment, NRL stands for Not Really Likeable.

    There have been only two weeks of on-field action but add to that the Souths end of season trip fallout, players charged with drug dealing, players signing contracts with clubs other than the one whose jersey they’re pulling on this week and, of course, the ref bashing, the interminable, relentless, boring, predictable and repetitive ref bashing.

    Facing my first season in three years where I have no direct involvement in media coverage of the NRL I’m finding myself feeling quite oddly unburdened. I’ve realised my engagement with rugby league is now elective rather than compulsory – and, so far, given the option of watching a lot of rugby league or doing other things, I’m doing other things.

    Released from the professional responsibility of spending hours every day thinking about the issues in rugby league, I’ve realised how sick of those issues I really am. Because they are the same old issues and they’ve been done, done, done.

    Where is the joy and celebration in rugby league?

    It’s a game that dominates the sports news cycle in NSW and Queensland for nearly ten months a year but the stories are overwhelmingly negative.

    Why, when we’re trying to get enthused about one season, are we confronted with stories about which players will be going to what teams next season?

    Perhaps there is a way the NRL administration can streamline recruitment and player trading procedures so that this craziness can be reined in, but why does it have to take on such all-consuming importance that it scuppers much of anticipation of the current new season?

    Why have we obsessed so much about Jarryd Hayne and his bid to make it in American football?

    Good luck to him, but I don’t need almost daily updates on his progress. He’s given himself a huge challenge and if he actually makes it onto the field in the NFL then that’s a big story. Get back to me when it happens.

    Going gaga about him getting a foot in the door is a sporting version of the cultural cringe that I find almost embarrassing. It’s like we’re all hoping that Hayne might earn us a proxy endorsement of rugby league from the Americans. Essentially he’s decided he prefers another code of football to rugby league. If rugby league is such a great sport why is this defection supposed to be exciting?

    The nightclub fracas in Arizona, details of which emerged on a slow drip over a number of days, and the arrest of Titans players on cocaine dealing and/or using charges are just par for the course. How many times have we swum around those buoys?

    What I find even more depressing is that immediately we get the predictable a widespread reactions of: ‘Give them a break, they’re just young guys who’ve done what a lot of young guys do’.

    ‘There are lots of people in society who do recreational drugs.’ ‘Why do they have to be role models anyway?’ ‘Why doesn’t the media get off their case?’

    The simple answer to all of the above is they are young men who are being paid handsomely to be in the media spotlight and represent corporate brands.

    Whether or not they should be role models is debatable, but the fact is their money doesn’t come from fans paying at the gate, their money comes essentially from sponsorship dollars: their club’s sponsors, the NRL’s sponsors and the sponsors who funnel money into the TV and radio outlets who broadcast the game.

    Most corporate brands don’t want to be associated with crime, drugs, violence and generally anti-social behaviour. Quite simply, there’s a responsibility that comes with the earn.

    And what galls me even more is that a lot of the sympathy for players who transgress is driven by the saturation level of former players who are in the media. ‘He’s a good bloke.’ ‘He’s not that kind of guy usually.’ ‘He needs the game to stand by him.’ Blah, blah, blah.

    Some years ago when I worked for a club one of the big hurdles to dealing with player misbehaviour was the attitude of former players who were on staff, or in the boardroom.

    ‘In my day that sort of thing, and worse, happened all the time. It’s no big deal.’

    Players and ex-players tend to see situations from the point of view of the players and not from the point of view of the sponsors and the fringe fans. Rusted on fans will stick solid, but if you want to grow the game you need the money sponsors provide, you need parents wanting their kids to play and you need fans who aren’t totally committed to get more interested.

    The problem with the prevalence of ex-player led perspectives is that if you’ve spent most of your life on the inside of the game, you usually lose the ability to see what it looks like from the outside. And on the outside is where the new fans, sponsors and players need to come from.

    Still, for me, the number one turn-off factor in rugby league is the constant backdrop of wailing about the standard of refereeing and the way the game is being run.

    Neither is perfect, but really, what in life is?

    I’ve been going to rugby league games and following reporting of the game, or reporting on the game myself for five decades now and there have always been cries of ‘this is the worst standard of refereeing ever.’ ‘A refereeing error could decide the grand final!’ ‘Something has to be done.’

    Over that time we’ve changed rules, added officials, added technology, increased the communication between officials and, guess what? The mistakes have continued.

    Refereeing mistakes will continue forever. Deal with it. Just like players making mistakes will always be part of the game no matter how sophisticated the training and analysis involved in the preparation is.

    No matter how professional and dedicated and fulltime the players are it doesn’t stop them making mistakes. Why would it stop referees making mistakes? Where are the panicked cries of ‘A mistake from a player could cost a side a grand final?’ We don’t say that, because we know that’s just what the game is. What any game is.

    I’m tired of ref bashing.

    I was brought up to believe blaming the ref was the last refuge of a loser.

    I don’t know if banning the coaches from making any reference to referees is the answer. My question is, why don’t the bitching comments of losing coaches about poor refereeing get taken with a grain of salt? It’s like the opposition disagreeing with the government. Of course that’s what they say, that’s what they always say. Who cares? But just a hint of dissent from a coach and the headlines and stories roll on, and on, and on.

    Same goes for criticism of the people running the game. I’m tired of hearing that they make decisions that are inconsistent. They have too many people in middle management. They promote people from clubs who some believe believe might have screwed up on occasion at that club. Or they hire people who have committed the sin of having worked in ‘the outside world’.

    Are there any reasonably big businesses that don’t attract the same kinds of criticisms? There’s nothing outrageously different going on in rugby league. If anything, I have more faith in the integrity of people runinng the game now than I had in some people who’ve run the game in the past.

    I often wonder whether the anti-establishment, breakaway culture that was behind the very foundation of rugby league back in the mining towns of northern England in 1895 is what makes it by nature a sport where everyone’s happiest rebelling against authority.

    It’s a sport where many seem to need to be outraged about something to keep them going. And, you know what, if I get to choose, I choose not to have that in my life.

    I’m not saying rugby league doesn’t have problems. What I’m saying is it’s always had problems. Like a lot of people who love the game, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to think of solutions to those problems. But I don’t want to do that anymore.

    This season, if I’m going to go to rugby league games, or spend hours of my weekend watching it on television, I’m doing it on my own time and I want it to be fun. I want entertainment. I want to appreciate skill. I want to watch a replay of a try so I can admire what made it happen, not so I can run a fine tooth comb over whether the officials missed something in allowing it.

    I don’t want to hear all week about how angry and dissatified people are with the game, the administration, the rules, and what’s going on off the field. I don’t want to think about what’s happening next season, or be reminded about guys who’ve left the game to play in sports we otherwise wouldn’t give two hoots about.

    I don’t want to feel sorry for guys who take all the advantages of having a public profile and then gripe when they stuff up and that profile bites them on the bum.

    If I want issues to chew over, to rile me up, and make me want to demand change, I’ll read the front part of the paper. Or switch over to the news channels.

    Or maybe I’ll watch a sport that has exhilaration as a by-product rather than aggravation and irritation.

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    The Crowd Says (128)

    • March 20th 2015 @ 1:36am
      Benedict Arnold said | March 20th 2015 @ 1:36am | ! Report

      As an astute fan of the game you paint a fairly well-rounded picture of the issues the game faces and how it is alienating the fans with the direction it is heading. NRL will continue to grow, but unless it can deal with some of the obvious negatives it will begin to lose a large number of generational fans. It has been getting worse more so than it has been getting better, hasn’t it? A lot boils down to the juggernaut the game is now and the way we produce the product we have come to love. Everyone is accountable, everything is seen, everything is ridiculed, bad choices are made, no real consequences are had, we put players on pedestals, they’re innocent, clubs want the best players, players want the most money, loyalty is dead, players are overworked… etc etc etc. Put that all in a pot and stir it and you have the NRL. That’s why it’ll fascinate.

      So, who’s looking forward to origin?

      • Roar Guru

        March 20th 2015 @ 1:30pm
        Kaks said | March 20th 2015 @ 1:30pm | ! Report

        “So, who’s looking forward to origin?’

        Origin is what League has come down to with A LOT of fans of the game.

        I have mates who use to be die hard League fans when growing up who dont care about it anymore and are only excited about Origin.

        Their parents and grandparents have rooms filled with club memorabilia, but they dont watch it anymore and only watch the Origin.

        Every game week there are debates on who’s form should put them in contention for birth in the Origin.

        I would be interested to see the interest in NRL if State of Origin was not played every year

        • Roar Guru

          March 20th 2015 @ 5:07pm
          Rabbitz said | March 20th 2015 @ 5:07pm | ! Report

          Quite some years ago I turned from a “sitting in the stands every week supporter” to a “just watch Origin supporter”.

          The logical progression, for me, is I am now a “I will watch it if it’s on at the club but not really pay attention” (non-)supporter.

          As Ms Spillane has inferred, the attention grabbing, follow at all costs thing has left me – I don’t know if it is me or the game or both.

        • March 20th 2015 @ 9:10pm
          Cathar Treize said | March 20th 2015 @ 9:10pm | ! Report

          Well, these ex fans certainly ain’t going to soccer, union or AFL. Perhaps its a sports wide issue. 11,000 at SFS tonite for A league, the AFL game on the coast looks just about empty. Plenty other examples which suggest all the codes are struggling.

          • Roar Guru

            March 20th 2015 @ 10:13pm
            Kaks said | March 20th 2015 @ 10:13pm | ! Report

            I am in no way a Sydney FC fan, but who would want to go to the game on a stormy Friday Night?

    • March 20th 2015 @ 3:27am
      fiddlesticks said | March 20th 2015 @ 3:27am | ! Report

      well said Deb, rugby league’s biggest problem is the sensationalist media reporting. no one can actually report about the game (except Steve Mascord) guys like Buzz Rothfield, Paul Kent rely on controversy. And Danny Weidler, if someone sent him on a long trip to the end of the earth i would be a happy man

      • March 20th 2015 @ 8:06am
        Kasey said | March 20th 2015 @ 8:06am | ! Report

        to me rugby League’s biggest problem is its fans. I am always seeing supposed fans of the game turn on their own sport to stick the boot in.Endless whinging and moaning about as you say the refs and the NRL organisation itself. Even fans of the game don’t seem to like it that much. sure every now and again they will fire up and turn feral on the odd critical poster who openly follows another sport to ‘defend’ their game, but when the criticism comes from within as it so often does, that seems to be allowed. Compaer and contrast with AFL footy fans. It seems like chalk and cheese to an outsider like me.

        • Columnist

          March 20th 2015 @ 8:53am
          Debbie Spillane said | March 20th 2015 @ 8:53am | ! Report

          Interesting you mention compare and contrast with the AFL Kasey, one of the examples I thought of but didn’t include when writing the story was how the AFL coped with talk that Buddy Franklin — arguably the code’s best player — was likely to leave Hawthorn at the end of the season a couple of years back.

          It was accepted he was probably leaving the Hawks and it got mentioned occasionally (remember most thought he was going to sign with GWS?) but, as I recall speculation about his future never eclipsed coverage of the AFL itself. It was a story, but until it actually happened it was treated as just an interesting sidebar to whatever else was happening.

          Too many NRL journos have their strings pulled by player managers, and they just don’t let up running stories about contract negotiations until a contract is agreed.

          • March 20th 2015 @ 9:48am
            BigAl said | March 20th 2015 @ 9:48am | ! Report

            Also interesting is the comparative attitude within AFL ranks of players who set off to chance their arm in the AFL.
            I remember a bit of coverage about Sav Rocca when he went, – that seems like ‘decades’ ago now, yet he was still a starter with the Washington Redskins just 2 seasons ago, but there was next to no coverage of his achievments there.

            Same with Ben Graham, and Darren Bennet was a multiple? pro-bowler which is regarded as a big recognition of your value within the NFL

            – granted, none of the above were Super Stars in the AFL

            • March 22nd 2015 @ 9:23am
              JB said | March 22nd 2015 @ 9:23am | ! Report

              They were kickers, they are viewed as second tier athletes and not really part of a team

          • March 20th 2015 @ 2:40pm
            Mike from Tari said | March 20th 2015 @ 2:40pm | ! Report

            Debbie I shudder when an NRL journalist or Media person says the fans say this & the fans say that, maybe you with all your experience can tell me how they know what the fans want or think, I myself believe that the use of the word fan means me, myself & I.
            I am still disappointed that The Sports Show that you were on with Andrew Denton did not go on for a longer period, it was smart & witty, I have had a gut full of ex players thinking they are comedians.
            I actually enjoy going to the Qld Cup games, good footy, bad refs but great entertainment for $10.

            • March 21st 2015 @ 11:33am
              jimmyChoox said | March 21st 2015 @ 11:33am | ! Report

              Mike im with you there. I attend newtown jets games where I can $10 in and I can smell the grass from where I sit. Quality Rugby League with great people sitting by me.#JetsInSydney

      • Roar Guru

        March 20th 2015 @ 8:45am
        Edward Kelly said | March 20th 2015 @ 8:45am | ! Report

        Foxsports channels do a pretty good job of reporting the footy and has quality shows that talk about the footy hosted by people that love the game.

        The negative reporting comes from a small sydney and brisbane mob that call themselves journalists but are more interested in the hits per page and are driven by their own egos.

    • Roar Guru

      March 20th 2015 @ 5:38am
      The Barry said | March 20th 2015 @ 5:38am | ! Report

      I get where you’re coming from but when I start to feel like that I just let the external stuff go and just watch the game.

      Don’t watch the news or read the paper for a while, get off the roar and just focus on what happens on the field.

      You have complete control over how much of the off field stuff you take on board – particularly now that you have a season off.

      I just can’t imagine ever saying “I’m going to follow another sport” because of an off field scandal or someone has signed with someone else.

      It’s easy to get caught up in that stuff and we all do but strip it back to basics – it’s 100% your choice.

      • Columnist

        March 20th 2015 @ 8:01am
        Debbie Spillane said | March 20th 2015 @ 8:01am | ! Report

        thanks The Barry,

        I am trying to coax myself to just watch the game and cut off as much as possible from the external stuff, but my job doesn’t let me do that completely.

        Even though I’m not hosting Grandstand’s NRL on Sunday this year and am heading back to ABC NewsRadio at the end of the month, I’ll still be presenting sports news, so I can’t avoid watching the sports news and reading the sports section of the newspapers. Working on a national network though, they don’t have to be Sydney papers 😉

        • Roar Guru

          March 20th 2015 @ 8:25am
          The Barry said | March 20th 2015 @ 8:25am | ! Report

          Fair enough – you certainly don’t have the luxury of cutting off completely.

          Just try not to let it get you down – it’s still the greatest game of all!!!

          • March 20th 2015 @ 10:14am
            cedric said | March 20th 2015 @ 10:14am | ! Report

            yes I also see where your coming from Deb, but like the Barry I’m really just a keen follower of the game, so probley like the average guy, when some news comes on about off field dramas, my eyes glaze over, my brain switches to low voltage. But when I see news footage of the game and something that happened on the field, brain is back on track and I’m upright in the chair again.
            Jared Hayne, SBW and slamming Sam, well, I’m already over them, bring on the Tedesco’s etc, there’s alot of young exciting footballers out there.
            I wouldn’t want to have footy as my job, I love the game to much to be that involved in it, if that makes sense.

        • March 20th 2015 @ 10:22pm
          catcat said | March 20th 2015 @ 10:22pm | ! Report

          Deb things will seem a lot better when the Dogs smack the easter bunnies on Good Friday. This is my favourite game of the year. Winners are grinners as they say. As for the NRL unfortunately still becoming professional might get it in HD soon!! C’mon ch9… commentry needs an update too. There is so much potential to be so outstanding and maybe that is the real frustration here for all of us.

      • March 20th 2015 @ 9:40am
        Chris said | March 20th 2015 @ 9:40am | ! Report

        I’d say you’re one of the ‘rusted on’ fans Debbie refers to, which is great and it’s good that you’re enjoying the game above all. As a casual fan though I see way (way) more disappointing aspects of rugby league than positive. Realistically I probably only see one game a week but I probably read or watch some sort of sports reporting every day. It’s tiresome constantly seeing the same crap – something about drugs; something about domestic violence; something about a fight in a nightclub. Or when it’s more about the game it still manages to look amateur and sad to me – the constant ref whinging is disgusting. If you think you’re team’s getting a hard time maybe you should change the way you play; players signing with new clubs at the start of the year is ridiculous. It’s a bad look for everyone – the player looks disloyal, the coach is in a hard spot about whether to play him/develop him further, fellow players must be questioning his commitment etc.

        And I seriously do not understand all the people (ex players, fans, guys I talk to at work etc) who stick up for the players with the ‘he’s just a young bloke, he just wants to play footy, he never wanted to be a role model’. That’s absolute crap. If all he wants to do is play footy he’d no doubt be welcome at any local club in the country. If he wants to play footy and earn half a million dollars a year, he can accept that he’s a role model, that there are standards he must adhere to, or he can piss off somewhere else.

        • March 20th 2015 @ 10:14am
          Rocco75 said | March 20th 2015 @ 10:14am | ! Report


          I agree.

          The other problem is the Footy Show. Utter tripe. If I wanted to watch a humourous show I would watch a sitcom or the Comedy Channel on Fox.

          Watching ex-players trying to be funny and appealling to the lowest common denominator is pathetic. The show is over 20 years old and it’s time for it to be killed off.

          Shows like NRL 360 and Sterlo on Fox are excellent. They discuss the issues about the game.

          I’ve never been a fan of watching ex-players trying to be funny when they aren’t and then passing it off as “entertainment”.

          • Roar Guru

            March 20th 2015 @ 10:36am
            The Barry said | March 20th 2015 @ 10:36am | ! Report

            One of the strangest posts I’ve read.

            Why would you be complaining about a show you don’t watch OR why would you be watching a show you don’t like?

            • March 20th 2015 @ 1:38pm
              Advid said | March 20th 2015 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

              When the weekly FTA prime time rugby league show is ex-players being idiots it does not help the image of the game.

        • Roar Guru

          March 20th 2015 @ 10:38am
          The Barry said | March 20th 2015 @ 10:38am | ! Report

          I agree with you re role models.

          The definition of a role model is someone that others aspire to be.

          It’s not up to the individual to decide I am or I am not a role model.

          When you play first grade footy you accept everything that goes along with that – the good, bad and inconvenient.

          • March 21st 2015 @ 7:58pm
            silvertail19 said | March 21st 2015 @ 7:58pm | ! Report

            When players go to schools and advise kids how to live healthy lives etc they become role models. End of story re role models.

        • Roar Guru

          March 20th 2015 @ 1:45pm
          Kaks said | March 20th 2015 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

          Spot on Chris,

          There will always be those who blindly back their club & players and i see that as a reason why so many incidences continue to occur.

          Another issue i see happen in NRL is talented players who constantly get caught in misdemeanors get let off by clubs and fans because they are talented. I mean if Todd Carney gets another chance at the NRL i will seriously be turned off by the game.

          • March 20th 2015 @ 7:14pm
            Marco said | March 20th 2015 @ 7:14pm | ! Report

            The drugs issue at the Titans is similar. The players will be back on the field whilst up on cocaine charges. Sponsors must be worried.
            If they are proven innocent it will be okay but if guilty, sponsors won’t go anywhere near the club.
            It’s a bad look for the NRL.

      • March 20th 2015 @ 9:44am
        Chris said | March 20th 2015 @ 9:44am | ! Report

        By the way good article Debbie. An article like this from someone who is obviously a true fan is refreshing.

    • March 20th 2015 @ 6:15am
      Greg Cross said | March 20th 2015 @ 6:15am | ! Report

      Debbie,most players are decent people who visit schools and raise money for charity.However there should be a tougher stance on those players who misbehave but it’s the same old story.If the players have ability clubs don’t want their star player to join another club if they sack him.Some journalists treat the game as a soap opera and I don’t believe that any publicity is good publicity.I think you should chill out and enjoy the football this year.In the end it’s up to the players to clean up,the NRL is providing courses and support.I watched a heartwarming story on James Segyaro last night and we need more of this from the media.

    • March 20th 2015 @ 6:31am
      Wilbur Starn said | March 20th 2015 @ 6:31am | ! Report

      What about the repetitive sports betting chat. I am having real trouble allowing my kids to be told every ad break that if you put money on team 1 and something quite achievable happens you get your money back. It’s complete deception, trickery and I find it disgusting

      Comment from The Roar’s iPhone app.

      • Columnist

        March 20th 2015 @ 8:12am
        Debbie Spillane said | March 20th 2015 @ 8:12am | ! Report

        And that too 🙁 Wilbur.

      • March 20th 2015 @ 9:19am
        Elma Dudd said | March 20th 2015 @ 9:19am | ! Report

        Can’t advertise cigga’s can’t advertise grog but good old gambling never hurt anybody , it’s just a bit of fun with ya skylarking mates …
        Samuel L Sellout makes me sick …

      • March 20th 2015 @ 8:01pm
        Dav said | March 20th 2015 @ 8:01pm | ! Report

        Gambling is the main turnoff for me, no need for it in the game ads no value, and blaring music at grounds has gota go!

      • Roar Guru

        March 22nd 2015 @ 3:03pm
        Sleiman Azizi said | March 22nd 2015 @ 3:03pm | ! Report

        A pox on them.

    • Roar Rookie

      March 20th 2015 @ 7:33am
      Squidward said | March 20th 2015 @ 7:33am | ! Report

      Rant over.

      • March 20th 2015 @ 9:25am
        Sideline Comm. said | March 20th 2015 @ 9:25am | ! Report

        I know. Does no one else see the irony?

        “It’s a game that dominates the sports news cycle in NSW and Queensland for nearly ten months a year but the stories are overwhelmingly negative.”

        Then why write one!?

        • Roar Guru

          March 20th 2015 @ 8:42pm
          Cadfael said | March 20th 2015 @ 8:42pm | ! Report

          Because bad publicity is better than none.