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Let's just split the NRL from the game of rugby league

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Expert
18th December, 2018
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2188 Reads

It’s really hard to come up with a new column on NRL player misbehaviour – like, difficulty level: a billion and seven.

I have written dozens of the blighters now, attacking the issue from almost every angle imaginable, and some that you probably can’t imagine.

I do, however, have a couple of fresh-ish perspectives in light of the latest round of allegations involving the mistreatment of women.

One comes via my fellow retired NRL scribe Todd Balym, who said on Twitter this week that the salary of a convicted criminal in the ranks should be deducted from each club’s grant each year, the NRL saying “we’re not going to pay that guy, you pay him yourself”.

I really like that idea.

The clubs get more than their entire wages bill from the league. So a Matt Lodge would have to be paid out of jersey sales or memberships.

Of course, it would just be a case of rearranging deckchairs to some extent. Presumably players’ pay comes out of the club bank account and money goes into that from any number of sources. But still, it would be a net loss for the club if they signed a bloke with a criminal record. So if you’re one of those halfway-house clubs we’ve had in the past, you’re going to cop it in the hip pocket.

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However, the NRL has an integrity unit to deal with these situations already. If it isn’t willing to ban players in certain situations, how can it justify slugging clubs for employing them?

There’s a whiff of procedural unfairness with Todd’s idea but still, it’s worth considering.

I have another thought, which is a little more radical.

When someone points out that American football players make NRL guys look like choirboys, what with all the gun violence and such, the standard – and 100 per cent valid – comeback is that the NFL doesn’t have a significant community element.

There are exceptions – I’ve seen park games of American Football – but generally you go from high school to college to the NFL and if you fall by the wayside during that journey, you don’t continue playing organised football.

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So the reason NRL players have to be squeaky clean is that there is a direct line from them down to under sevens and to the mums washing jerseys for free and dads manning canteens for nada, as well.

What if we accepted NRL players will always misbehave and just cut that line?

What if we made rugby league in Australia outside the NRL a completely different sport? What if we made participant rugby league as different from the NRL as formula one is from the morning commute?

No-one says Eddie Irvine set a bad example for milkos, tradies and taxi drivers.

All the rules we think will help rugby league as a participant sport – weight for age, no tackling and even no finals? Let’s bring them in and deliberately drive a wedge between the full-time pro and amateur games. That way, kids, mums and volunteer coaches can distance themselves from their embarrassing uncles in the NRL.

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Until a few years ago, Major League Baseball wasn’t even properly enforced when it came to doping. I’m not suggesting we go that far, but why not let the NRL devolve into a zoo, there for the voyeuristic pleasure of the huge reality TV audience while a wholesome weekend pastime develops parallel to it, but with no connection.

WWE to Olympic wrestling, never the twain shall meet. Sure, punish guys who misbehave but don’t let them bring the whole sport down by distancing them from the game. The purchase of touch football and some of the amended rules at junior level surely indicate this split is underway already.

Let’s use it to our advantage from a PR perspective – make it a clean break.

The garish cartoon violence of the NRL can continue to fund the valuable community asset of rugby league, but they will pretend not to know each other.

Just a thought.