With the NRL now three weeks away from its potential May 28 relaunch, the game faces its biggest threat.
And no, it’s not the coronavirus. It’s the destructive and outright ludicrous behaviour of players stating that they will not receive the mandatory flu vaccine required to play again.
In the past two weeks, we’ve had players breaking social-distancing rules and even posting TikTok videos. But now we have outright stupidity as the face of the NRL.
Gold Coast Titans player Bryce Cartwright made headlines after he notified the Titans and the NRL saying he will not receive the flu shot, after which his wife Shanelle Cartwright came to his defence on Instagram.
“People have the freedom to say what they like, just like we have the freedom to choose which medical procedures we undergo, but ultimately the proof is in the pudding,” she wrote.
“Our kids are a picture of health. They’ve never had an ear infection, never had a chest infection or bronchitis, they have no neuro-developmental disorders or auto-immune disorders and are rarely ever sick.”
What Shanelle Cartwright said is not entirely wrong. She and her husband do have the freedom to choose what medical procedures her family follows. No one is debating or critiquing that.
But if that choice comes face to face with your employer’s rules, then something must subside.
The timing of this issue couldn’t be more pressing for the NRL. All over the world, governments are racing to fund and develop a vaccine to COVID-19, yet one of the league’s players believes that they are not essential.
This is a theory that has been debunked and proven wrong on multiple occasions by minds smarter than Cartwright’s.
Not only does this represent a growing feeling in some corners of the world that has now infected the social consciousness, but it represents a new danger to the NRL.
For months, the NRL has taken blow after blow from critics who say that returning to professional sports should be the last thing on people’s minds. However, this new issue looms as the league’s most important battle.
Cartwright is the first player to come out and reject the NRL’s new guidelines, but he hasn’t been the last, with Canberra trio Josh Papalii, Sia Soliola and Joseph Tapine refusing to fall in line with the NRL’s vaccination policy.
It only leaves the league in one place: the players who refuse the shot don’t play.
Give players stuck in reserve grade who may not get to play again this year a crack at the top level. Let those players like Cartwright, who want to stick by their message, watch on from the sidelines.
The most important and valuable stakeholders to this game are the players. Without them, we have no game.
But if players are foolish enough to follow the words of Cartwright, then they should not play again this year.