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Big Sam should be applauded for standing his ground with the NRL

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Expert
19th September, 2019
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1692 Reads

Sam Burgess is in big trouble. He’s really done it now.

The big lad has likened the NRL’s judiciary system to a Kangaroo Court.

Now Principal Greenberg has called him to his office to explain himself.

And if Principal Greenberg doesn’t get a public apology from Burgess straight away then Sam may well be getting a breach notice, a $25,000 fine and there are even threats of him being sued for defamation.

Greenberg apparently dressed down Burgess via phone, explaining the extreme gravity with which he viewed Sam’s statement.

Just like any good disciplinarian, he also provided Burgess with a definition of “Kangaroo Court” (of which there are many), whether Greenberg intended this to be intellectually patronising is unknown.

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I suspect Greenberg hoped Burgess would understand from that just how much he had insulted Chairman Bellew and all of the old boys who make up the judiciary panels through calling their integrity into question.

“On face value, Sam’s comments about the judiciary breach our code of conduct and are offensive to both the chairman and members of the panel who carry out their duties impartially, without fear or favour.”

The problem is – just like the prefects at exclusive private schools – Burgess is not scared and he’s not backing down.

Why? Because, while the term Kangaroo court may not be a perfect fit in regard to the curious workings of the NRL’s system for dealing with the on-field incidents, the blinding inconsistencies that have occurred this year alone definitely need to be called out.

Sam is a no-nonsense guy. There is little nuance or subtext.

He’s calling bullshit and so he should.

To add to this potential public relations disaster for Greenberg, Daddy (the Rugby League Players Association) agrees with much of what his offspring said. ‘He’ will be coming to that meeting as well to make sure Greenberg knows it and also knows the sentiments uttered have strong support from so very many of the other boys too.

So the stage is set.

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“I’ve spoken to Sam today and invited him to meet face to face to discuss the issues he has and explain his comments,” Greenberg is quoted as saying.

But as severe as the crime has been painted by Greenberg – as offensive as he says it is to Chairman Bellew and the members of the panels – the meeting has been scheduled for next week, after Burgess plays for the Rabbitohs against the Sea Eagles in the semi-final…

So what did Burgess actually say?

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“Everyone seems to be in uproar about this judiciary system.

“Who is making the calls here? Is there a discussion before these calls go out there? I don’t know. What’s the process? It’s like a kangaroo court in there.”

It’s that last line that Greenberg has seized on. Todd has seemingly used that to link all of the Burgess criticism to the way charges are heard by the tribunal.

Even a cursory examination of the statement makes Greenberg’s stance look like opportunistic pedantry in my opinion.

Greenberg’s statement included the following, “…the NRL judiciary is a longstanding and independent process based on the principles of natural justice in our court system.”

Here’s the thing Todd, the system the organisation you run operates isn’t a perfect mirror of the actual court system.

There is little to no transparency in how the match review committee (MRC) part of your judiciary system carries out their role – or even who makes up the committee. As I’ve explored previously, the membership of the MRC and the rules they follow are pretty much unknown to us.

How can this vital component of the NRL judiciary system possibly be compared to our court system if we don’t really know who they are (is Michael Buettner still involved?), by what guidelines they operate and when we (the players, the clubs, the fans) have no mechanism at all to call them to account for their actions?

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I mean, “who is making the calls here? Is there a discussion before these calls go out there? I don’t know. What’s the process?”

These are very fair questions. Sam Burgess is right in asking them.

Sam Burgess

Sam Burgess is asking tough questions. (Photo by Will Russell/Getty Images)

How Nic Cotric got heavily charged for a spear tackle while Jake Trbojevic didn’t is a mystery to us. It is unknown to us how Nelson Asofa-Solomona didn’t get charged for his crusher tackle. Why Josh McGuire only got fines while Hudson Young and George Burgess sat out long suspensions doesn’t make sense to so many.

If Todd Greenberg wants to try and make Sam’s comments all about Geoff Bellew and the judiciary members and bring Burgess before an actual court on charges of defamation, there is a big risk that the courts might see Big Sam’s questions as entirely valid and reasonable.

That would be very embarrassing for Greenberg.

For mine, Burgess is clearly talking about the MRC part of the judiciary system and not the tribunal, as we clearly know who the members of the tribunal are, as well as the arguments that they consider.

For Greenberg to try and make this about Sam insulting Bellew and the ex-players is very poor in my view.

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The issue isn’t that NRL tribunals don’t hear cases fairly and transparently. They do.

The issue is that the MRC could be argued to be wildly inconsistent in the charges they lay and – just as importantly – those that they don’t. It is very arguable that many either don’t get heavily charged – or don’t get charged at all – while others aren’t so fortunate.

This goes straight to the fairness of the NRL’s judiciary system.

Sam Burgess is absolutely spot on to call it out. Further, I admire the hell out of him for refusing to back down.

Burgess should know that he has masses of support in doing so.

Todd Greenberg should know that too.