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Opinion

Why the focus on Latrell misses the real issue in a failing system

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1st September, 2021
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The 56th minute of the Roosters-Rabbitohs match saw Bunnies fullback Latrell Mitchell smash Roosters centre Joseph Manu in the face with his shoulder.

The impact smashed Manu’s face and has ended his season.

And, hasn’t the world exploded?

However, most people have missed the real issue.

The narrative has mostly been in regard to whether Mitchell intended to do what he did and whether the incident should just be accepted as part and parcel of the game, which is after all a sport that involves plentiful collisions.

Firstly, there is no way to prove intent and there is nothing to support Mitchell being an endemically dirty player. However, there is no question that his actions were reckless.

People engaging in talk that Mitchell is a thug and meant to injure Manu are as misguided as those arguing that the officials have a set against the Roosters.

And they are doing precisely what NRL HQ wants them to do: view each incident in isolation.

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When you look at each incident in its own bubble you don’t focus on them being repeated incidents of incompetence and failure on the part of the administration.

You don’t look at the underlying problem. You spend your time looking at each tree as being a problem rather than the woods as a whole.

You miss the point.

One person who didn’t miss the point was Roosters coach Trent Robinson. His press conference was one of the highest rating things on social media last Friday night.

Not only did Trent not miss, he was spot on in his comments about the blatant ineptitude of the bunker.

“It was laughable. It was that bad it was laughable. They don’t know what they are doing.

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If you can’t do it, get out of there. Or just get rid of it completely. Get rid of it completely,” said Robinson.

“If you cannot do the job get out of there. And its shown that the NRL Bunker cannot do their job this year. It’s been a farce. It’s been an absolute farce… It’s that bad its actually funny. Like what are they doing up there. I don’t know what they’re doing up there. I’ve got this thing about circus music going on in the background and streamers…”

But neither the failing bunker officials, nor their bosses, are going to get out of there.

And who exactly do we expect to push them out?

Make no mistake, the Sydney Roosters are no one’s second-favourite side. They are commonly viewed as Uncle Nick’s sombrero-wearing golden boys. People like seeing them lose.

So the fact that the overwhelming majority of supporters totally agreed with Robinson’s assessment is damning.

In my opinion, the NRL administration isn’t very good.

ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

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They’ve got an Operations Manager who continues to allow trainers to run virtually unrestricted through every NRL game regardless of the known risks. They’ve got an officiating department that continually makes errors that, should we punters commit the equivalent of in our roles with the regularity we see with the NRL officials, would probably see us sacked.

From what I can tell, the NRL is effectively a closed shop and beholden to no authority but their own.

The way I see it, there are only two ways that that can change:

a) a leader somehow gets in there and changes that reality and gives the NSWRL, QRL, RLPA and the clubs actual power over the operations, or

b) the clubs revolt and form their own breakaway league.

Both of these options are incredibly unlikely.

That leaves NRL HQ in the position where I’d argue that genuine accountability for their performance doesn’t really exist – except when it comes to revenue.

The only real benchmark I’d really be concerned about if I were in their shoes would be ensuring that the organisation makes money for my lords and masters.

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While it does – and the NRL most certainly does make money – I wouldn’t be too concerned about any flare ups caused by, say, the Operations Manager allowing trainers to go wherever they like and one inevitably altering the course of a game.

Hell, I probably wouldn’t even fine or suspend the trainer, let alone sack the guy who runs the ground managers.

I probably wouldn’t be too worried when a referee had an absolute howler that cost a side a game – like illegally changing a six again call in the biggest game of the year.

If I were in their shoes I’d just come out and have a go at those casting comment on the incompetence. I’d label those people ‘refs faulters.’

But I’d sure as hell care if a coach refused to attend the post match press conference.

While the rule stating that the coaches must front the cameras and speak is in the exact same operations guide that stipulates the ignored rule that trainers must be on the field only for the briefest periods, the press conference is something the broadcasters want.

So if you don’t show up to that you’ll get fined.

Ricky Stuart

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

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And if you arc up about incompetence and inconsistency you can bet your backside that they’ll fine you for that big time.

It doesn’t matter in the slightest that, like Trent Robinson, you are absolutely spot on in your assessment, you can not criticise the NRL.

It’s all very 1984..

That’s the way NRL HQ runs.

You must go to the press conference but don’t dare say what you think or you’ll get hammered with a big fine. Just like the $40,000 one that the Roosters just accepted.

And who can you appeal to? No one.

The ARLC?

I’d love to think that Kate Jones, Tony McGrath, Dr Gary Weiss, Megan Davis and Wayne Pearce might decide that enough was enough and demand that a broom was put through NRL HQ.

I’d love them to usher in an era where those in charge were chosen in processes that were transparent to the clubs and even us fans so that we could truly believe that they’d hired the best possible people for the jobs.

Just try to imagine a world where we didn’t watch Graham Annesley’s Monday briefing without having to weather regular involuntary blasts of disbelief and incredulity in regard to the content.

Well, it’s not going to happen.

At least not while the NRL is turning a profit.

And let’s face it: outrage is good for business. People tune in to radio and tv and read articles to hear others railing at the incompetence and the injustice. And then the news cycle moves on and we wait for the next big issue to rear its head and we go again.

Even when the issue is the same incompetence from the officials we screamed about last time.

We are screaming into the void.

Referee Ashley Klein speaks with Joseph Manu of the Roosters after receiving a high tackle from Latrell Mitchell of the Rabbitohs

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Here is a reality lots of people aren’t talking about right now: Henry Perenara is a lovely man. I’ve had the pleasure of talking with him a few of times, once pre-game in the bowels of ANZ Stadium when I asked him about his refereeing career. I found him engaging, funny, respectful, polite and very handsome.

He knows rugby league. He played 72 first grade games in eight seasons, across five NRL clubs. He even played a Test match for New Zealand and a game for the Maoris.

In 2007 he played his last game and was at a loose end. He seized on the opportunity to move into refereeing as it had a steady pay cheque and the job came with a car. He knew the rules well and he was certainly fit enough.

However, as lovely a person as he is, that doesn’t mean that he should be officiating games anymore.

His first top grade appointment was in round 17, 2011, where he officiated the Roosters against the Raiders. He controlled 204 first grade games until his last appearance in Round three this season where he controlled the Raiders against the Warriors.

That game was clouded in controversy in that he – and his fellow officials – missed a forward pass that was so glaringly obvious that no one could quite understand how it was let go. It cost the Raiders the match.

Now it is very possible that his last bunker appointment will be surrounded in controversy with him inexplicably not sending Latrell Mitchell from the field.

When Josh Papalii got the Bulldogs’ Sione Katoa in the head with his shoulder he was sent off on video review.

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When Corey Harawira-Naera got the Storm’s Jarome Hughes in the head with his shoulder he was sent off on video review. And even when the Broncos Kobe Hetherington played the role of power pole that Harawira-Naera smashed into he got sent off on video review.

The precedent was blatantly, unmistakably clear.

That Perenara didn’t think it was makes it clear that he is just not the right person for the job. It is that simple. To get that wrong was unacceptable.

The NRL sees 16 clubs competing. They are all businesses that need to turn a profit, just like the NRL. Their salary caps each season are in excess of nine million dollars. That’s $144 million dollars a year. And that is just the players.

That level of investment demands a competent administration and competent officials.

Yes, everyone does make mistakes and I accept that. No system is infallible.

However, these types of inconsistencies and incompetence can not and must not be acceptable when there is this amount of investment involved.

Because if it is acceptable – if Henry does retain his position – then the NRL is nothing more than a circus with colourful streamers.

And we all just have to accept that.

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