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'It's Mabo. It's the vibe': The NRL's Federal Court defence

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Expert
17th April, 2019
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2923 Reads

“Rugby league is a professional game run by amateurs”.

I don’t know who the above quote is attributable to, but I like to think it was delivered by the legendary Jack Gibson in his dry and laconic style back in the late 1970s.

What is really sad is that, forty years later, the exact same thing could be said of the current NRL administration. Although the game has grown massively over those four decades, the blunders being made by those charged with running the competition are massive and look amateurish.

The big question is; at what point should we demand the game’s administrators to stop stuffing things up or get shipped out? An even bigger question is just who has the power and inclination to remove those who constantly steer NRL HQ into icebergs?

These icebergs are very easy to see and each should have a logical, considered and consistent approach to avoid them. Yet, this week it is all hands to the pump at NRL HQ, as they desperately try to stay afloat from the impact of hitting two of them.

Firstly, how on earth can Todd Greenberg justify allowing the Rabbitohs to use the cap space that was allocated to the recently retired Greg Inglis, to go back into the player market?

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In recent times, both the Eels in regard to Anthony Watmough and the Sea Eagles in regard to Brett Stewart have tried to get the same treatment but were refused.

Now the NRL has seemingly done a total 180 and is letting the Cardinal and Myrtle do it. That stinks. If they are going to do that, then they must let the Bulldogs medically retire Kieran Foran and the Dragons do the same with Gareth Widdop. If they don’t, they are effectively granting commercial advantage to one team over others.

As the administrators of the game, they are in charge of creating as level a playing field as possible. While most of us have accepted that NRL HQ seems pretty unconcerned about carrying out that role as a priority, this inequity is the most blatant evidence of that I’ve seen to date.

While Inglis was a superb player and we should rightly honour his career, that can’t extend to giving the Rabbitohs this unparalleled leg-up. Greenberg and co. need to right that wrong ASAP or they may well find themselves in another massive and totally avoidable mess, like the one they’ve created through their standing down of Jack de Belin.

Jack De Belin of the Dragons makes a break

Jack de Belin. (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)

You know those dreadful people who say “I told you so”? Well, on this issue, I’m totally one of them.

To me, it was clear as day that standing down the St George Illawarra forward, who had pled not guilty and had not been found guilty of any of the charges against him, was fraught with risk.

I – along with quite a few others – pointed out that standing De Belin down, even on full pay, was effectively declaring him guilty and pre-empting the verdict.

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In my opinion, the very concept that the stand down was based on what the potential penalty might be – should the person be found guilty – was just absurdly stupid. You can be accused of something that carries five life sentences but if you aren’t guilty of that crime, that potential sentence is not at all relevant. That’s just basic logic, people.

Many of us following De Belin’s legal challenge of his stand down have been astounded by the NRL’s defence of their actions.

The NRL is attempting to justify their decision to stand De Belin down on a drop of six percentage points in a thing called the “Net Promoter Score”, a tool created by an organisation called Futures Sport and Entertainment.

Justice Melissa Perry of the Federal Court, who is hearing the case, said as much by declaring the Net Promoter Score “incapable of bearing any probative weight” and that the evidence was of a “speculative nature.”

Justice Perry was of the opinion that the NRL’s Chief Operating Officer – Andrew Abdo – should have limited the influence of the Net Promoter Score when deciding how to approach the De Belin issue as it was largely irrelevant.

Yet the NRL is putting it up as a key plank in their defence.

Who are the lawyers and decision makers in their organisation who think that basing such a harsh penalty on a player – not to mention his club – on a survey that asked respondents “Are you likely to recommend rugby league to your family and friends?” was a reasonable course of action?

Further, how is it possible that Greenberg could then have gone ahead with standing De Belin down when he has now admitted in court that “the only evidence [he] had was the charge he was facing.”

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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)

The NRL CEO kept digging by then producing 500 emails sent to the NRL from fans, many of whom wanted a hard-line stance in standing down players accused of serious crimes.

There were lots of people baying for witches to be burnt at the stake in Salem too. There were also a whole lot of people very keen to see the House of Un-American Activities Committee act on Senator Eugene McCarthy and Roy Cohn’s baseless accusations and destroy peoples lives.

We should have learned these historical lessons by now and realised just how stupid it is to base one’s actions on such flimsy reasoning.

However, Greenberg wasn’t finished with the sources he used to push through the ‘Stand Down Policy’.

“I’m the father of a daughter who plays regular touch football and a number of her friends have shared that the conduct of players is the reason they will no longer play casually.”

Greenberg might as well have gone with, “It’s Mabo. It’s the vibe.”

None of those pieces of ‘evidence’ lend themselves to forming a reasonable position in my view. In my opinion using those kinds of justifications only serves to do one thing: demonstrate that the present powers that be at NRL HQ are completely unsuited to running the game.

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Greenberg’s justification for letting them do so? “Perception goes to brand and reputation, which results in revenue.”

Putting the penalties imposed on De Belin and the Dragons aside, how much is it costing the NRL to defend their actions in court? How does this fiasco affect the perception of NRL HQ, and through that their brand and reputation?

At the time of De Belin’s stand down, ARLC Chairman Peter Beattie – shortly before sending the long deceased Laurie Nicholls his regards via tweet – tweeted this:

“What we are doing is to set a benchmark and a standard to defend the game of rugby league.”

Well, lads, in my opinion the only benchmark and standards you have set are in regard to ineptitude.

This was further reinforced when De Belin’s barrister, Martin Einfield, pointed out to Greenberg a tweet from Beattie’s (now deleted) Twitter account from February 27 that said: “De Belin is innocent unless proven guilty. Neither the ARLC and or the NRL, are in possession of any evidence that enables us to form a view on this matter.”

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Yet you acted to stand him down all the same.

Greenberg’s response? “Our chairman does tweet a quite a bit.”

That’s the least of your problems right now Todd. While it is possible that the court may uphold your administration’s actions in regard to standing down De Belin, should this case go the way that presently appears likely and the Federal Court overturns your administration’s actions, you and your team will be effectively branded as incompetent.

How will you possibly be able to justify remaining in your role?

Surely you must be embarrassed by all of this. Surely it’s time rugby league was a professional sport run by professionals.