Round 1 team selections are one of the most anticipated moments in the NRL season.
Trials and preseason training are now memories. It’s time for all 16 teams to aim up and face the music.
Barring injury, suspensions and dropped players, coaches have nominated their best 17 for the first time this year to take them into battle in one of the toughest sporting competitions in the world.
Flowing down from that, the official publication of the NRL will present team lists from the NSW and Queensland cups, Jersey Flegg, Queensland Colts sides and the Ron Massey Cup in all their black-and-white glory.
These are exciting times for a footy nut who can’t resist reading a program from cover to cover on repeat. I don’t remember scores or statistics very well, but quiz me on who played hooker for the Glebe Burwood Wolves in the Ron Massey Cup last season and you will most likely get the answer.
I will happily rock up to a local game in the park and donate ten bucks to watch as long as I can get my hands on a program.
My bedside cabinet was once overflowing with footy programs from years gone by until I had a Marie Kondo (I bet you never thought she would get a mention in a rugby league article) moment and cut it down to the ones that ‘spark joy.’
What’s not sparking any joy for rugby league is the off-field garbage that the game has endured heading into the 2019 NRL season.
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga penned an article on NRL.com over the weekend with the opening line: “The footy is back in less than a week, and it’s hard to remember when the game has needed it more”.
There is truth in Mal’s sentiment but it seems simplistic and uncaring to say, ‘Let’s just get on with the footy’ given the nature of the allegations and in some cases criminal charges surrounding a number of NRL players.
There is a black cloud hanging over the sport at the moment that won’t clear until firm action is taken and individuals take responsibility for their actions.
The official launch of the NRL season at the upmarket Bondi Icebergs establishment with a ‘new era’ theme was dominated by media questions about whether Peter Beattie and Todd Greenberg had got the player stand down policy process right.
Rugby league has always been like a planarian, the flatworm with an extraordinary ability to regenerate lost body parts.
No matter what scandals and criminal charges have surrounded the game it has managed to survive and prosper despite itself.
The truth is that many of us love to watch a bunch of tough players go at each other for 80 minutes on the field. Poor off field behaviour by a minority of players, while not palatable, is never going to make us walk away from the sport. We are the rusted-on fans.
What is the future support of the game by fans and sponsors though? How much irreparable damage has been done by the alleged crimes of physical and psychological hurt to women?
Parents making decisions on their kids’ participation and ultimate support for rugby league in an increasingly competitive market may think long and hard about signing them up for a sport where the behaviour of a minority of high profile players has damaged the sport’s reputation.
Roar colleague Mary Konstantopoulos in her article on International Women’s Day highlighted the need to think about the impact that off-field behaviour has on how welcome women feel in the rugby league family.
The reactions through the media following the Penrith sex tape allegations from people who supposedly care about the game and its image have been puzzling or in some cases predictable.
Statements – quickly followed up by apologies in two instances – and deflections by administrators and current and former players have been jaw-dropping.
I won’t go through the details given they have received extensive media coverage, but a number of people connected to rugby league have come out with generalisations that have sought to partly excuse or deflect from the poor judgement and lack of respect for women shown by some individuals in our game.
While the follow-up apologies demonstrate contrition, what is said through the media doesn’t magically disappear.
Modern society, technology, club culture, girls who want to be around footballers and personality type needed to play this brutal game, have all been thrown up as partial reasons behind the abhorrent behaviour.
Recently retired player Luke Lewis, a straight shooter who experienced the trauma of his mother being subjected to domestic violence growing up, had viewers of the NRL 360 program nodding in agreement when he said, “You’ve either got morals or you don’t,” and “You just treat women with respect and it’s done, you don’t have any dramas”.
There is so much to look forward to in 2019 at all levels in men’s and women’s competitions both domestically and internationally.
The NRL has a lot of work to do before off-field behaviour is of the same calibre as the game itself.