Rugby league players should stop complaining about unsourced stories now they’ve planted one of their own to hijack some of the spotlight surrounding the NRL finals series and put pressure on the game’s administration.
David Smith would have been spitting out his cornflakes on Thursday morning when he read in the metropolitan dailies that players were considering boycotting the Dally M Awards in grand final week in response to a stalemate with the NRL over pay.
There were no quotes in the initial round of stories but we all knew they were true. That’s how it works – people don’t want to put their name to things and are happy to measure public reaction anonymously while reporters cop the heat.
Then, yesterday, Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and RLPA boss Clint Newton come out of the woodwork, confirming the stories are true.
What does it all mean?
While most people focussed on Thurston saying he has “no qualms or worries” brushing the Dally Ms, the quote that caught my eye was this one: “I think there’s probably better ways going around it where we can be better in that area of affecting the NRL.”
Then, this morning in The Australian, NRL beat reporter extraordinaire Brent Read was clever enough to call Craig Gower – the man who would have won the 2003 Dally M medal had the function not been cancelled when players threatened not to show up.
“Why don’t they just boycott games?” Gower asked.
“Looking back, it would be nice to have that award.
“So I suppose there is a regret that side. At the time we thought we were doing the right thing. At the end of the day, it did nothing really. It didn’t give us the power we thought it might have given us.
“When is the day going to come to when we do have the same power as the AFL (players) and cricketers?”
You know what this all means, right? Industrial action. A strike. It wouldn’t be the first time, of course, Super League players refused to take part in the opening of the 1996 competition when their rebel league was defeated in the courts.
Just another catastrophe in the sport that specialises in it.
On the surface, the players’ demands are reasonable. No five-day turnarounds, better retirement conditions and more annual leave.
But as Wayne Bennett suggested a week ago – and detailed in this column a few hours after he said it – the abolition of the five-day turnaround would put the NRL in breach of their existing broadcast contracts.
If a team that plays on Sunday cannot back up on Friday, then the best-rating teams will simply be locked into Friday night for an entire season. Under the contracts, Channel Nine and Fox Sports get to choose the games they telecast and if there are no more five-day turnarounds, then they don’t have that right anymore.
Having said all that, my information is that NRL did inform clubs it was looking to get rid of the turnarounds as soon as possible – obviously not soon enough tor the RLPA.
The NRL can hardly say “wait until the next TV deal and all will be fine” – they’ve used up their brownie points in that area.
If I was an NRL player, I would be angry that the league signed a new TV deal promising Channel Nine 24 rounds until 2020, when all this talk had been going on about reducing the regular season to 22. That would have pushed me over the edge and these new demands would be just my way of expressing that.
The NRL has sold the right to games it plans to stage between 2017 and 2020 – games which it needs the cooperation of clubs and players to put on.
That cooperation is in jeopardy. Things are about to get ugly.
If I was involved in DUCO events, promoters of the 2016 NRL Nines, I’d be getting a bit nervous right now.