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MASCORD: Roosters’ Dubai trip raises plenty of questions

Steve Mascord Columnist

By Steve Mascord, Steve Mascord is a Roar Expert

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Popular article! 8,505 reads

    Are the Sydney Roosters seriously going for a training camp in Dubai, where rugby league’s official representative was locked up by the government for 13 days?

    This column is fond of pointing out short-sightedness and a lack of unity in the 13-man game, but it’s hard to think of a bigger disconnect in recent years than this rather scandalous development.

    It’s been reported by multiple sources that, en route to their Langtree Park appointment with St Helens on February 20, the Tricolours will be stopping off in Dubai for a three-day training camp.

    To recap, rugby union claims the right to run rugby of all codes in the United Arab Emirates, and to prove its point, had UAERL general manager Sol Mokdad incarcerated for fraud in May last year.

    World Cup qualifiers set down for Dubai in December were duly moved to Africa because self-governed rugby league is essentially illegal in the UAE.

    There is now no sanctioned rugby league in a country that once had ambitions to host the World Cup. Playing the World Club Challenge there is off the agenda indefinitely.

    But do the weather, affordable facilities and a handy airline hub outweigh the moral responsibility the Roosters feel to the sport they play?

    Roosters coach Trent Robinson is a devoted internationalist. I’d like to think he is aware of the situation and plans to use the trip to rugby league’s advantage.

    But how can the club pump money into the economy of a country where rugby league is not only illegal but has been actively persecuted?

    Sol Mokdad, jailed on May 6, chose the high road when I asked him about the plans.

    “It’s an outstanding place for a training camp. The weather is brilliant,” he said.

    “I’m going to be constructive and hope that whoever has organised this training camp should use their contacts to give rugby league recognition as an independent sport in the UAE.”

    But there are fears the rugby union will instead parade the Roosters as a shining example of their sport, while continuing to muddy the waters regarding league’s independence globally.

    Mokdad is now in Lebanon and doesn’t believe rugby league has a future in Dubai. But the real fear is that the Rugby League International Federation itself will appease the government to such an extent that rugby union will end up getting its way and will run league.

    And if that happens, it can happen elsewhere. The Italian Rugby Union recently annexed the rebel league comp there. We are looking at a slippery slope where rugby league could end up like touch football.

    Just about everywhere but Australia, touch football is closely aligned to rugby union. There are a dozen countries where rugby league could end up run by union if we are not strong.

    What hope does rugby league have when it’s biggest clubs tacitly support a regime that locks up its officials?

    The Roosters should either lead a concerted campaign to right the wrongs of Sol Mokdad’s imprisonment, or abandon this Dubai visit completely.

    Steve Mascord has started a Kickstarter campaign discussing sport, rock music and extremism. Find out more about it here.

    Steve Mascord
    Steve Mascord

    Steve Mascord has covered rugby league in 15 countries and worked for most media organisations that regularly feature the sport, on both sides of the globe. He started off as an 18-year-old cadet at Australian Associated Press, transferring to the Sydney Morning Herald just in time to go on the last full Kangaroos Tour in 1994. He spent three years at Sydney's Daily Telegraph from 2006 before going freelance at the conclusion of the 2008 World Cup. Steve is the author of the book Touchstones, host of the White Line Fever podcast, partner in international rugby league merchandise start-up Mascord Brownz, and proprietor of, and He is married to Sarah and splits his time between London and Sydney.

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    The Crowd Says (160)

    • January 6th 2016 @ 7:14am
      Steve said | January 6th 2016 @ 7:14am | ! Report

      Yep you’re right. I can just see the UAE rugby union, such a well known Middle Eastern sporting organisation parading the world renowned Sydney Roosters around the “rugby” mad streets of Dubai.

      Comment from The Roar’s iPhone app.

    • Roar Guru

      January 6th 2016 @ 7:30am
      eagleJack said | January 6th 2016 @ 7:30am | ! Report

      Truly scratching my head why the Roosters stopping over in Dubai is an issue.

      • January 6th 2016 @ 7:58am
        sbs2 said | January 6th 2016 @ 7:58am | ! Report

        No off season scandals this year,so make one up.

      • January 6th 2016 @ 8:18am
        Adsa said | January 6th 2016 @ 8:18am | ! Report

        Imagine if Chris Gayle was on the same flight as the Roosters to Dubai, scandal x 100!

      • January 6th 2016 @ 9:12am
        Rossco said | January 6th 2016 @ 9:12am | ! Report

        Then read “The Forbidden Game” by Rylance about how Vichy France made RL illegal in that country. This in Dubai could be the thin end of the wedge.

        • January 6th 2016 @ 9:22am
          Boris said | January 6th 2016 @ 9:22am | ! Report

          Geez rugby union is evil!

        • January 6th 2016 @ 11:07am
          In brief said | January 6th 2016 @ 11:07am | ! Report

          Vichy were a Nazi sponsored regime,they were not the IRB. The Nazis killed 6 million jews. Sorry, but whether or not rugby league was played during WW11 seems quite irrelevant to me.

          • January 6th 2016 @ 4:56pm
            Crosscoder said | January 6th 2016 @ 4:56pm | ! Report

            And in that regime were a few influential officials/sympathisders from ru,which is fairly relevant when it applies to the removal of a sport and their influence in so doing.And this is a sport’s site.

            • January 6th 2016 @ 10:53pm
              In brief said | January 6th 2016 @ 10:53pm | ! Report

              What is more relevant is that the hey day of French rugby league was in the 1950s and 1960s, long after WW11.

              • January 7th 2016 @ 7:40am
                Crosscoder said | January 7th 2016 @ 7:40am | ! Report

                Another predictable deflection,by sugar coating history..

                The hey day for rl was the early 40s.The 50s and 60s were the young now mature players left over from that era.Because the code was banned players at youth level gravitated to the officially recognised one :union.Do a bit of research you may learn something.

                The code was not recognised at the high level from 46 and I note you then ignore the ensuing 4 decades where the code was treated like a 2nd class sporting citizen.All a direct result of your mob ,snuggling up to a despised puppet Govt.It was mid 90s before the code could even get its name back,and early 2002 before the Govt admitted what has been done and firmly pointed the finger at union officials.

              • January 7th 2016 @ 9:12am
                clipper said | January 7th 2016 @ 9:12am | ! Report

                Don’t inject reality into the situation, In brief, you’ll only get long winded replies

              • Roar Guru

                January 7th 2016 @ 9:50am
                Sleiman Azizi said | January 7th 2016 @ 9:50am | ! Report

                What is more relevant, actually, is now. Not what happened decades ago.

                The sport has a chance for real growth. The evidence is right in front of us all.

                That is what is relevant.

              • January 7th 2016 @ 11:30am
                Crosscoder said | January 7th 2016 @ 11:30am | ! Report

                Fancy you appearing out of the blue LOL.
                Better to get factual replies than agenda driven trolling.
                Trouble is reality is not part of your thinking Clipper when it comes to rl history in 1941 to date..

              • January 7th 2016 @ 12:40pm
                AussieIrish said | January 7th 2016 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

                In brief, I normally do not respond on League forums but I noticed that you have placed comments about French Rugby Union. Like most Union supporter I am embarrassed by the past activities of the French Rugby Union, which included association with Hitler and Mussolini, pre WW2, providing help and assistance to the vile Vichy regime in WW2, post WW2 infiltrating the conservative French political party and influencing attempted bans on League and amazingly Soccer and Handball, in some regions in the 1980s, as well as actively employing thugs to disrupt matches in other sports and paying players when Union was nominally an amateur code. The club I played for had numerous Wallabies and all spoke of their amazement of the political power the French Rugby Union wielded. These Wallabies spoke of some of the “revered” French rugby internationals being enabled to get away with the most atrocious behaviour that would make some of the poor behaviour of our worst League and AFL player pale into insignificance. French police and politicians turned a blind eye. When I played two seasons, in the early 90s, near London we had an end of season tour to France. That was an eye opener to the excesses French Rugby took for granted. I understand it took challenges to the ECJ to bring French Rugby Union to heal. As I discovered in last year’s European holiday, even today there is still a feeling, in France, that French Rugby Union operates to its own set of rules and Union is certainly not the sport of the masses in France, no matter what the wealthy classes in France pretend. So, In brief, I don’t know why you are so quick to defend a Union that taints the character of a wonderful code that is developing a global presence.

              • Roar Guru

                January 10th 2016 @ 7:20pm
                Cadfael said | January 10th 2016 @ 7:20pm | ! Report

                Another problem for the French RL was rugby union. As France was only an Associate member of the IRB, As such, their amateur status was not as vigorously treated as the full members. In the 60s, league had a gun, young five eight. He went to union because it paid better.

          • January 6th 2016 @ 10:54pm
            nerval said | January 6th 2016 @ 10:54pm | ! Report

            Of course you’re right, In brief, but rugby union does have a funny way historically of going about its business, doesn’t it? Here’s Eddie Butler, the former Wales union no.8 and now BBC commentator, writing in the Guardian last November:

            “Now, rugby union, historically the chosen sport of regimes that have not been best known for their lightness of touch – apartheid South Africa, Romania under Ceausescu, Argentina of the Junta and Vichy France spring to mind – has never been averse to a strong hand on the tiller. ”

            It’s all a tad unfortunate, isn’t it?

      • January 6th 2016 @ 2:37pm
        Rodney Olsen said | January 6th 2016 @ 2:37pm | ! Report

        Of course you are EagleJack.

        If you see nothing wrong with what has happened in the last 12 months over in the UAE in regards Rugby League, you would would be scratching your head, what’s the deal huh, only a guy teaching youngsters a sport getting locked up and ridiculed, nothing wrong with that at all.

        • Roar Guru

          January 6th 2016 @ 3:48pm
          eagleJack said | January 6th 2016 @ 3:48pm | ! Report

          No doubt he was treated shockingly. Nobody is disputing that.

          But I fail to see why the Roosters should get involved with something that has nothing to do with them.

          Steve suggests if they don’t involve themselves then they should abandon plans to go there immediately. What nonsense. I mean there are people locked up for making public displays of affection over there. I find that crazy too. But I’m not about to get involved and fight a perceived wrong. Different culture. Different beast. Nothing to do with us.

          • January 7th 2016 @ 4:49am
            Russell said | January 7th 2016 @ 4:49am | ! Report

            “Nothing to do with us”
            How very interesting Eaglejack
            “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
            “Never for the sake of peace and quiet deny your convictions.”

            Well it doesn’t affect me so cba with it all!

            Told you so Steve!

            • Roar Guru

              January 7th 2016 @ 7:06am
              eagleJack said | January 7th 2016 @ 7:06am | ! Report

              Plenty of people/organisations out there who have a reason to get involved. And probably should. Namely the RLIF. Although when it comes to administering rugby league on an international scale they appear to be asleep at the wheel regularly.

              Nobody has actually come up with a valid reason why an Australian NRL club should get involved. Except for the argument that “they play rugby league too so, yeah, it’s their duty”.

              No it isn’t. This is a serious matter that should be dealt with through the proper authorities. The Roosters have no right to involve themselves, it should be dealt with by the relevant bodies.

              This isn’t make believe land where fairies and leprechauns magically make things better. The repercussions of the Roosters getting involved could be huge. We are dealing with a culture completely foreign to our own. Roosters management putting their players at risk would be negligent.

              But thankfully they would be aware of the sensitive nature of the issue, in an area with laws completely different to ours, and will be steering clear of it.

              • January 8th 2016 @ 6:31pm
                Russ. Russell, me! said | January 8th 2016 @ 6:31pm | ! Report

                “Plenty of people/organisations out there who have a reason to get involved”

                Yes true but they’re not and they don’t because they imagine it doesn’t affect them while lesser sports go world wide with a reputation they barely deserve.

                It’s called fiddling while all around you turns to ashes!

    • Roar Rookie

      January 6th 2016 @ 7:49am
      Squidward said | January 6th 2016 @ 7:49am | ! Report

      Someone will end up in prison

      • Roar Guru

        January 10th 2016 @ 7:23pm
        Cadfael said | January 10th 2016 @ 7:23pm | ! Report

        That is my concern, too, Squid

    • January 6th 2016 @ 7:55am
      glen said | January 6th 2016 @ 7:55am | ! Report

      Thanks Steve. It is really important that there is awareness of this issue. I would like to see the Roosters accompanied by some RLIF and NRL reps to meet with UAE officials while in the UAE.

      A small price that might be worth it in the long run. There have been worse junkets.

      • January 6th 2016 @ 9:21am
        Boris said | January 6th 2016 @ 9:21am | ! Report

        But the RLIF and NRL reps would get put in gaol by rugby union.

        • January 6th 2016 @ 11:14am
          glen said | January 6th 2016 @ 11:14am | ! Report

          Agree its a risk and probably one noone wants to take. Surely with a bit of fore-planning this would be avoided. Get all parties, including the UAE Ministry of Sport or whatever, together around a table and discuss the issues at hand.

          I guess I’d just be hopeful that logical arguments hold together and that the Govt can appreciate they are different sports.

        • January 6th 2016 @ 9:17pm
          Mike from Tari said | January 6th 2016 @ 9:17pm | ! Report

          We should send Gus Gould, they might lock him up & throw away the key.

          • January 6th 2016 @ 9:40pm
            scott said | January 6th 2016 @ 9:40pm | ! Report

            No no no no no!
            Not unless you promise to send Hadley first.

    • January 6th 2016 @ 9:00am
      turbodewd said | January 6th 2016 @ 9:00am | ! Report

      Im puzzled by the fascination with international league by some people. The game at home is suffering record low crowds in real terms. Weve got several NRL clubs on life support. The NRL is a renovators dream.

      I don’t care 2 hoots for the international game. If the standard jumps then ill pay attention.

      • Roar Rookie

        January 6th 2016 @ 9:13am
        William Dalton Davis said | January 6th 2016 @ 9:13am | ! Report

        I don’t know what you constitute as record low but this season saw an average of a hair over 16000 per game while 98-04 never hit the 16k mark.

        Maybe replace record lows with slightly below the last decades average.

      • January 6th 2016 @ 9:37am
        Elton said | January 6th 2016 @ 9:37am | ! Report

        I don’t think everyone here shares your doom and gloom views on the NRL and why should it bother you that people care about International League?

        • January 6th 2016 @ 10:09am
          nerval said | January 6th 2016 @ 10:09am | ! Report

          This appears to be turbodewd’s default position on anything to do with the game. What’s stopping the people of Canberra coming out and supporting the Raiders? It’s not the international game is it? Indeed, wasn’t the last time their ground was filled for an international game?

      • Roar Rookie

        January 6th 2016 @ 9:48am
        William Dalton Davis said | January 6th 2016 @ 9:48am | ! Report

        In fact id say that the relatively small drop in crowds over the last 5-6 years is directly related the Titans crowds plummeting from 08s 22k or so average to today’s 11 or 12 thousand.

      • January 6th 2016 @ 10:04am
        $Bill said | January 6th 2016 @ 10:04am | ! Report

        Mate, you are missing out. Same as watching bush or suburban footy. It is unreal.

      • January 6th 2016 @ 11:11am
        In brief said | January 6th 2016 @ 11:11am | ! Report

        The biggest issue facing rugby league in Australia is low participation numbers. This issue has been exacerbated by the inclusion of touch footy players in the participation figures, which is akin to putting up the white flag, and has muddied the waters.

        • January 6th 2016 @ 11:50am
          Elton said | January 6th 2016 @ 11:50am | ! Report

          I think the point of including touch numbers was to give the NRL more power to get govt funding, similar to what AFL does with Auskick. At least with touch they are willing participants who are paying money to play…

          • Roar Guru

            January 6th 2016 @ 11:53pm
            Paul D said | January 6th 2016 @ 11:53pm | ! Report

            Sure, but Auskick leads directly into AFL (theoretically) while touch football has sod all overlap with rugby league.

            I’ve been playing for about 5-6 years now in various Brisbane comps and have never bumped into anyone there who also plays league, at any level.

            Loads of blokes who also play soccer though.

            • Roar Rookie

              January 6th 2016 @ 11:58pm
              William Dalton Davis said | January 6th 2016 @ 11:58pm | ! Report

              Touch football in reality is non-contact league. Players like Alex Glenn, And Shaun Johnson have heavy touch footy backgrounds.

              • January 7th 2016 @ 12:42pm
                Elton said | January 7th 2016 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

                Anyone who has played touch in this country knows its based on League and not Union. Not sure what the rules are for Touch in other countries, but laughable that anyone playing touch here thinks they are playing something similar to Union.

              • Roar Rookie

                January 10th 2016 @ 7:28pm
                William Dalton Davis said | January 10th 2016 @ 7:28pm | ! Report

                You literally search touch football and anything with regards to its history clearly states rugby league without the tackles.

            • January 7th 2016 @ 7:53am
              Crosscoder said | January 7th 2016 @ 7:53am | ! Report

              Really.In fact in Sydney junior rl players( not NRL ones of course )play touch in the off season,so I suggest Paul D,that would also apply in Brisbane to varying degrees.To say it has sod all overlap,is a bit rich.

              I know of two young kids in my area who play Oztag in summer ,who now play junior rl.Kids play a sport until they either get bored,their mates toss it in,they are not into it,or they enjoy and want to continue.That happens here also with Auskick.

              In fact having touch under the NRL wing has given the code far more bargaining power re grants and for Insurances.Possible conversion of players and further fanbase source.In fact has created more interest in rl for women.
              if the NRL thought taking Touch on board served little purpose,they would not have spent the loot.

              Ones(high profile) with a Touch background include Johnson and Marshall.

              The point to remember the NRL has underperformed fro many years due to real lack of finance at grassroots level.Grant has stated they will be spending $100m pa to underpin that area.

            • January 7th 2016 @ 9:15am
              clipper said | January 7th 2016 @ 9:15am | ! Report

              Same experience here Paul D (although being the eastern suburbs of Sydney there aren’t many league juniors)- most other countries touch is linked to Rugby, really a separate sport

              • January 7th 2016 @ 10:07am
                Birdy said | January 7th 2016 @ 10:07am | ! Report

                To all of Spirro’s chooks,
                While I havnt played touch for 20 years , everywhere I played the players were mostly from a league background which makes sence as touch was developed by league same as Aus tag.
                It pleases me now to read that people from a lot of other sports are now playing touch , proving the popularity of a league derived sport . In time the young players will choose to play RL, or start to follow RL .
                As for most other countries ,touch is administered by RU only proves the point of the article!!!!

              • January 7th 2016 @ 10:40am
                Cathar Treize said | January 7th 2016 @ 10:40am | ! Report

                French Touch has signed an agreement with French rugby league and the newly formed federations of rugby league in Latin America are already jumping in & signing up links with Touch Footy!! Personally I prefer Oz Tag.

              • January 7th 2016 @ 3:35pm
                Birdy said | January 7th 2016 @ 3:35pm | ! Report

                Good to see Cathar re touch in France .
                Oz tag is much more fun from what I’ve been told.I’ve never played just know it started with a St George training session and is on it’s way to going global.
                Not surprised RU is trying to annex touch in other countries , just can’t imagine how they could possibly convince themselves or anyone else that they started it.
                I suppose if you read some of Spirro’s articles you start to see how their manipulation works.

              • January 7th 2016 @ 11:36am
                Crosscoder said | January 7th 2016 @ 11:36am | ! Report

                You still tucked away in the Eastern Suburbs hey Clipper?.Playing regular touch yeah sure.Mr Agenda get out in the real youthful suburbs ,you may learn a thing or two.

              • January 7th 2016 @ 12:41pm
                clipper said | January 7th 2016 @ 12:41pm | ! Report

                Never said I played it, just haven’t bumped into anyone who plays it and plays league, as Paul D noted, mostly they play Soccer. Still, the points stands, not as a direct link as Auskick is to AFL.

              • January 7th 2016 @ 2:43pm
                Crosscoder said | January 7th 2016 @ 2:43pm | ! Report

                You need to get out a bit,away from the rah and kick to me set tucked away in the Eastern Suburbs.
                The point is having Touch provides another pathway for some to the NRL,and offers opportunity for lobbying power.And former touch players are in the NRL: and U20s

                Paul D doesn’t speak for all areas.He is an AFL man and you back him ,none should be surprised.
                My daughter played touch in the good old Shire.

              • January 7th 2016 @ 3:04pm
                Rodney Olsen said | January 7th 2016 @ 3:04pm | ! Report

                The area I’m in during summer has all the local parks and any open areas having kids or families playing touch, quite funny watching them when going past, you can always pick out the newbies. I am seeing a lot more females participating too.

            • January 7th 2016 @ 10:00am
              Cathar Treize said | January 7th 2016 @ 10:00am | ! Report

              Suppose you’re an AFL fan so probably should let that one by as there are several NRL players who have come directly from Touch footy. In fact some of the biggest names in Marshall & Johnson prove Touch is a valuable & growing source of NRL players.

            • January 9th 2016 @ 7:25am
              E-Meter said | January 9th 2016 @ 7:25am | ! Report

              Heaps of overlap on the Gold Coast. I’ve.just retired from both Oztag and touch. Some of the teams we played were in the Bycroft Cup comp and also the local rah rah comp.

        • January 6th 2016 @ 1:46pm
          maxxy said | January 6th 2016 @ 1:46pm | ! Report

          how are rugby participation numbers? pretty poor i reckon

          • January 6th 2016 @ 10:58pm
            In brief said | January 6th 2016 @ 10:58pm | ! Report

            Good question, clearly soccer is number 1, AFL number 2 then daylight. I wouldn’t be surprised if rugby union has slightly higher participation numbers than league in 2016, but it would be a close race either way.

            • January 6th 2016 @ 11:15pm
              nerval said | January 6th 2016 @ 11:15pm | ! Report

              Rugby league is dying In brief – hope that cheers you up.

              • January 7th 2016 @ 7:55am
                Crosscoder said | January 7th 2016 @ 7:55am | ! Report

                He’s certainly been pushing for it nerval.
                Just don’t mention to him that the NRL is pumping $100m pa into grassroots down the line.

              • January 7th 2016 @ 3:06pm
                Rodney Olsen said | January 7th 2016 @ 3:06pm | ! Report

                I don’t know why that cheers him up nerval because everything eventually dies, even things he loves.

              • January 7th 2016 @ 9:58pm
                nerval said | January 7th 2016 @ 9:58pm | ! Report

                Each man kills the thing he loves Rodney.

            • Roar Guru

              January 7th 2016 @ 1:49pm
              peeeko said | January 7th 2016 @ 1:49pm | ! Report

              no it wouldnt, daylight then rugby

            • Roar Guru

              January 9th 2016 @ 6:10pm
              Renegade said | January 9th 2016 @ 6:10pm | ! Report

              “AFL number 2 then daylight”

              Have you actually been outside and seen daylight…. not sure how anyone could think that rugby union is even close in participation rates and how AFL is clearly number 2.

              • Roar Guru

                January 9th 2016 @ 8:35pm
                eagleJack said | January 9th 2016 @ 8:35pm | ! Report

                He is actually correct Rene.

                But to be more accurate he should have said 1. Soccer 2. Daylight 3. Daylight 4. AFL. 5 Daylight 6. Rugby League 7. Rugby Union.

                (Roy Morgan 2015).

                Union and League then draw level when you look at kids 14+. But neither have very impressive numbers. It will be interesting to see how things are for both sports in 20 years time.

        • January 9th 2016 @ 4:49pm
          Norad said | January 9th 2016 @ 4:49pm | ! Report

          The NRL was 100% right to get touch back into the fold. Like NFL there will soon be no full contact version rugby league played outside the NRL and Superleague.

          Soccer and AFL can be played by park footballers and without a lot of injury risk or training. League will only be played outside NRL in the form of 9s, tag or touch. No one plays full on gridiron outside the NFL but that doesn’t make it less of a major sport.

          Comparing participation numbers doesn’t matter much but people who want to play league will do it in the form of touch, tag or 9s, not full on 80 minutes of bashing each other 13s.

      • Roar Guru

        January 6th 2016 @ 3:05pm
        Epiquin said | January 6th 2016 @ 3:05pm | ! Report


        I disappear from The Roar for three months and when I return, turbodewd is still repeating the same old tired argument.

        Time to change the record mate. Maybe put on something a bit cheerier.

      • Roar Guru

        January 6th 2016 @ 9:13pm
        Sleiman Azizi said | January 6th 2016 @ 9:13pm | ! Report

        It’s puzzling.

        That’s what it is.

      • January 7th 2016 @ 2:00pm
        Alvin Purple said | January 7th 2016 @ 2:00pm | ! Report

        Yeah thats why it got a record TV deal you clown

    • January 6th 2016 @ 9:37am
      pete bloor said | January 6th 2016 @ 9:37am | ! Report

      Yep this is the greatest moral conundrum facing NRL teams and supporters right…

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