Does anyone else have that feeling of deja vu all over again?
The actions of an NRL trainer have again made headlines. Depending on which team you support, the intervention of Penrith trainer Peter Green may have unfairly influenced the outcome of Saturday night’s game of the season between Penrith and Parramatta. It was an epic battle, but sadly our collective attention has been hijacked by the controversy caused by the trainer requesting a halt to the game just as Parramatta established attacking field position in the final minutes of the match.
I’m not too interested in whether the trainer made the right call or not, but I am interested in the integrity of the game. Accordingly, I believe anyone on the field who is not competing should be completely and utterly neutral.
What if teams did not have their own on-field trainers? What if teams did not have their own medico carry out head injury assessments? What if every non-playing person on the field came from a neutral pool and the NRL allocated out the officials to the game each week? Imagine the peace it would bring to the kingdom.
For one, it would get the trainers off the field. If trainers were not mobile coaches, defence setters and carrier pigeons, they would not have to spend so much time on the field. This would reduce their visibility, their impact and the likelihood of them influencing play. Dare to dream of a game in which they only go on with a water bottle during breaks in play.
It would also elevate the role of captain. Remember the good old days when the captain had some gravitas and actually led the team during the match? Someone like Mal Meninga or Paul Harragon – someone who inspired and was able to impose their personality on their teammates. Now close your eyes and think of the last game you watched and picture one team standing behind their goalposts and one person doing all the talking. I bet it is the trainer.
In the modern game the captain wears high-vis and runs in from the sideline a lot. Compare this with the player with the ‘C’ next to their name, who I suspect is chosen because they are presentable and unlikely to embarrass the club during the off-season.
Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, this plan would improve the perception of neutrality. Yes, I know referees come in for flak, and so will all match officials, even neutral trainers. The neutral trainer will make mistakes and annoy us occasionally, but they are unlikely to be accused of bias and will have a much smaller role to play regardless. This neutrality should even see the trainer equipped with enough self-discipline to resist joining in the push on shove should it spill over the sidelines.
It would close the salary cap loophole too. I’m hazy on the details, but surely a framework that regulates the numbers and salaries of trainers would assist in addressing the current salary cap loophole that sees ex-players taking up the golden water bottle upon retirement.
Finally, it could open up refereeing pathways. There are a lot of ex-players out there who want to stay involved in the game and need employment. The NRL should consider creating a framework in which ex-players are able to remain close to the game, learn new skills and be given opportunities to find employment as match officials of varying types.
Ex-players – maybe even normal people one day – can register for the training pool when they retire and then, depending on desire and ability, work their way up from water boy to trainer to video referee, to touchie and even to on-field referee if they wish. The game needs to encourage more ex-players to take up the whistle. Establishing a central pool that severs the link with clubland will assist.
The presence of club-affiliated trainers on the playing field has been an avoidable blight on the NRL for many seasons. Surely the time has come to reduce their influence and allow the players to think for themselves.
There are probably hundreds of other ways the NRL could address the problem, but I’d just like them to start.