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Where exactly does the NRL stand on giving troubled players a second chance?

Mitchell Pearce was banned for eight weeks, and fined $75K. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
Roar Guru
13th October, 2016
20

Many won’t remember Willis Meehan, the promising forward the Roosters sacked in July 2015 after he was found guilty for a second time of assault, having previously been placed on a good behaviour bond in 2014.

Meehan, who had played one senior game with club, later revealed that he had been playing the role of standover man for known criminals, although this is not something for which he had ever been charged.

Repeated off-field incidents ending in court appearances led to the Roosters running out of patience.

Fair enough. And yet…

The Roosters recent recruitment of serial bad boys Zane Tetevano, Paul Carter and Liam Knight has raised a few eyebrows.

Tetevano’s record makes for uneasy reading. Sacked from the Knights for ‘disciplinary reasons’, notably smashing a taxi windscreen, Tetevano was thrown a lifeline by the Sea Eagles, only to be later jailed for four charges relating to assault of his then partner.

Carter’s career is marked with incidents involving alcohol. While at the Titans he was twice charged with high-range drink driving, on one occasion while driving unlicenced. His sacking saw him move to Souths, where he was again sacked following alcohol-related incidents.

Knight is also known for running afoul of drink-driving laws. In an incident where he was clocked doing nearly double the 70km/h speed limit, Knight made headlines for spraying Aerogard in his mouth to try to avoid being picked up by a breathalyser. His unusual attempt failed and a high-range drink driving charge saw him being stood down by Manly, before moving to the Roosters.

There is an argument to be made that these players have been punished by the authorities, and while the club is taking a risk in signing them, the Roosters are well within their rights to do so.

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The club does have a history of signing, or re-signing known troublemakers.

Blake Ferguson was known for more than his football when the club signed him, with an indecent assault charge following multiple off-field incidents while at the Raiders. Since joining the club he has stayed out of trouble.

Club captain Jake Friend is another example, with a successful rehabilitation and return to the club after being sacked following arrests for assault, drink driving and offensive behaviour.

But for every Friend or Ferguson, there are the not-so-successful stories. Serial offender Todd Carney joined the club in 2010, only to be sacked the following year. Former captain Mitchell Pearce is still at the club but no longer skipper, after a number of well-publicised off-field incidents.

While Pearce may yet demonstrate he has turned himself around, surely he is on his last chance, and a less talented player might not have been given that leeway.

What to make of all this? Meehan’s sacking seems reasonable. He crossed a line that meant the Roosters couldn’t back him any more.

But where is that line?

It’s easy to look from a distance and make parallels. Twice being charged with assault means you aren’t Roosters material. Repeated counts of assault on your partner? Repeated high range drink driving? Indecent assault? That’s the other side of the line, apparently. At least, if you’ve done your time.

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And provided you did those things before you became a Rooster.

Meehan has since found structure and discipline by embracing both boxing and Islam. The Sea Eagles offered him a reserve grade contract for 2016, but the NRL has not registered a contract for him for 2017. The fact that Meehan has been offered a contract by Manly, while a former Sea Eagle and a former Rabbitoh are lining up at the Roosters, confirms that a sacking offense for one club is not always a recruiting barrier for another.

That’s the beauty of rugby league – there may be a second chance.

If you are good enough. And if you keep on the right side of that line.

Wherever it is.