The Roar
The Roar


Rugby league’s new line in the sand means Vexed Times at Ridgemont High

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28th February, 2019
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Jack of the Jack de Belin thing yet? Me, too. But jeez – tumultuous and important day in League Land, and no argument.

In one corner, the Brandsmen – those for whom perception of the NRL by sponsors and advertisers is all.

Those who see ratings and crowds down, who see people – or more to the point consumers – fleeing league to spend their disposable income at the movies, the golf course, the horror – watching the Swans.

It’s a steady trickle at the moment – hard to see it being a flood because rugby league the game is grouse. The game is highly entertaining. It makes people feel good.

But rugby league the brand is on the nose. It makes people feel like having a wash. Some of ‘em, anyway.

And it’s those people – the swinging voters, potential league consumers, the greater claque of humanity known as ‘women’ – for whom the headlines verily stink up the joint.

Just when they’re coming back to rugby league on the back of Billy Slater’s gleaming white teeth does another Big Papi tape surface – and worse.

Jack De Belin

Jack De Belin. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images

In another corner are those who’d punt players based on video. The NRL is among those in this corner. They needed one look at Ben Barba in the Townsville casino to flick him. Others who’ve seen it agree. You can’t unsee it, apparently.


Video killed the radio star. But in these Trump-votin’ times, if you can’t see it on YouTube did it really happen?

There’d have been people defending Matt Lodge’s rampage in New York if it weren’t seen on video.

News of Big Papi and the boys treating love-making as spectator sports for their pals would’ve been bad taste at best for some, disgraceful for others, and something that others – and the Roosters crew were presumably among them – would find piss-fart funny.

In yet another corner you have the Always Innocent Until Proven Guilty (AIUPG) brigade – those for whom any act of any thing is apparently sweet as the nut until it’s been proven in court.

It seems for these folk the ‘line’ of behaviour isn’t marked until Dude X has had his day in front of a beak.


And nothing has happened and everyone should be free to play and go about their business until police and prosecutors make a case good enough for the judge’s gavel to whack down upon the fellow and declare him Guilty As Charged.

One wonders were a player to be charged with, shall we say, behaviour more befitting of a player from George Pell’s dressing shed, would that logic apply.

You have to suggest it would not.

But some people’s ‘lines’ are thicker and more porous than others.

The Australian cricket team’s one was more porous than Afghanistan’s border.

Greg Inglis’s line gets signed off on by the NRL chief executive; the journeyman from the Titans has a line thinner than the legs of Laxman Sivaramakrisnan, a leg-spinner.

But stuff those bloody lines. You can’t have one size fits all. Treat every case on its merits.

Brett Stewart was rubbed out and had his life changed. He was treated as guilty before we knew the girl’s father was a grub out to extort the poor bastard.


Stewart did nothing more than quip a girl shouldn’t be smoking. Next thing they’re yelling he’s a rapist.

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg speaks during the 2018 NRL Finals Series Launch at Allianz Stadium on September 3, 2018 in Sydney, Australia.

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg. (Photo: MAtt King/Getty Images)

Hell with that. That’s not right.

The de Belin case is something else again. As is Dylan Walker’s. As are others. Of course.

The NRL – brandsmen to their bones – have attempted to draw a line in fat black Texta under certain behaviours, and to judge others on their merits.

The NRL is realistic about consumers. They know – because advertisers and sponsors have told them, and have voted with their corporate cards – that consumers – that means you, Buckeroo – don’t like even the idea of violence against women.

And that if anyone’s even remotely within coo-ee of bad press about same, the game’s brand suffers and flocks of born again soccer mums take flight.

People might say the man’s Innocent Until Proven Guilty Let Him Have His Day In Court, but they don’t mean it. They talk thus. They do with their wallets.


NRL honchos Peter Beattie and Todd Greenberg declared yesterday that if you’re charged with a crime that carries maximum 11 years or more, you’re outta there until proven innocent.

That means Stewart would’ve been David Goneski now as he was then. David Gallop and company made a similarly pragmatic decision ten years ago.

You’ll never convince the Stewart family it was right. Ever, ever.

For other other ‘lesser’ crimes, the NRL will make a call based on … their experience, their gut, the greater vibe.

They’ll ring Mal Meninga, see what he reckons. And that’s their prerogative. That’s the leadership they’re paid for. You don’t have to agree. But you must respect their license to make these calls.

And so, for alleged crimes of violence against women, among other things, the NRL has decided to draw a line through that, and anything else that carries 11 years max.

No matter the state of a player’s innocence before being proven guilty.

And here we are. Vexed times at Ridgemont High.


Now, presumably – and this is where the Fourth Estate (the media, Google it) comes in – head office has made this call rugby league’s best interest at heart. That’s why the presser yesterday appeared feisty.

It was hacks doing their job, holding authority to account. The NRL has made a big call. It warrants scrutiny. This is how democracies sort their shit out. It mightn’t look pretty.

Beattie and Greenberg would’ve expected nothing less.

And then, in another corner again, and indeed in all four corners, all at once, are women. All those consumers who have their own, many-and-varied, multi-faceted and nuanced opinions about rugby league, the vibe, and what should happen to de Belin, Big Papi, Lodge, Walker, the list goes inexorably on.

Matt Lodge

The Broncos host the Eels in Brisbane. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

It’s these people – 51 per cent of humanity – whom the NRL is ultimately trying to court, placate, woo.

Not us dopey men. We’ve had a crack. We find it hard to empathise with women. Always have. We try. But we’re hopeless.

We know what it’s like from our perspective to have daughters, mothers, sisters, friends, wives, girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, and we are on their Team.


But for other, anonymous women, it’s like … I dunno. How do we get in their heads? We cannot.

Remember Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge? Reading women’s magazines to learn about feelings? Not possible.

All we can do – as NRL HQ has done on the back of the advice from Big Mal and others – is draw lines in the sand – and enforce them like Checkpoint Charlie.

Rugby league is doing its best.

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