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Opinion

NRL clubs frustrated with Gould's conflict of interests - theatrical puppeteer simply can't stay in his lane

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Expert
11th May, 2023
26
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There is much unrest at a host of NRL clubs, infuriated at Bulldogs general manager of football Phil Gould’s unfiltered commentary around so-called ‘live’ issues in the NRL.

Whether it be the departure of Joseph Suaalii to the 15-bodied game, head knocks, concussion, hip-drop tackles or decisions made by the judiciary on them, Gould is rarely backward in coming forward.

Most recently it was the referees under his microscope, as he mounted a rather unconvincing defence of Canterbury veteran Josh Reynolds, after the five-eighth lost his cool and clearly crossed the line when it comes to appropriate language used towards officials.

Whilst the passion and commitment to the cause is admirable, other clubs have grave concerns around Gould commenting on matters that are live and fearful that his words could well have a significant impact on their own players involved in the judicial process and future refereeing decisions.

Possessing a considerable rugby league brain and widely respected as one of the most astute scholars of the game, Gould appears to be reading his own press, somehow now believing a brilliant coaching and football directing career leads directly to an untethered right to comment on all matters, when and where he chooses and without any true consideration of the consequences.

NRL boss Andrew Abdo met with Bulldogs CEO Aaron Warburton to discuss the issue, yet watered down the meeting as the kind that takes place frequently with all clubs, saying that his “conversation with the Bulldogs was just around registered club officials not breaching the rules”.

Phil Gould addresses the media in 2022. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Such a description is somewhat confusing, especially considering Abdo was firm in stating no punishments were being considered for Gould and even openly suggested the 65-year-old was in no way, shape or form to be muzzled or silenced by the governing body.

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Frankly, the two simply do not marry up. Effectively, Abdo has admitted a meeting took place to discuss officials’ public commentary, Gould is undoubtedly the subject, yet there are no sanctions or subsequent repercussions.

Abdo was categorical in saying: “There’s a reason why club officials aren’t able to comment when a matter is live because we don’t want the perception of that influencing the decision-makers.”

Gould has obviously breached this guideline and officials are clearly permitted to comment on live issues, as he is doing so constantly.

The feeling in clubland is that should others take the same aggressive stances on issues, they would be treated a little differently to Gould.

The situation reeks of a powerful rugby league figure, liberally using his broadcast platforms to comment on controversial matters, and those relating to Bulldogs players raising plenty of eyebrows thanks to a pervading perception of bias.

There has also been a blended line between the official statements made by the Bulldogs board, chairman John Khoury, Warburton and the informal commentary undertaken by Gould on his Twitter account.

Frankly, it is an unprofessional and potentially problematic situation, with much of the brilliant work done by Khoury and Warburton in rebuilding the club being placed in jeopardy by a man who appears to have become a law unto himself.

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In a nutshell, other clubs are far from happy with Gould’s commentary around live issues, have subsequently brought it to the attention of the NRL and from the outside, it appears the governing body has attempted to manage and massage the situation, rather than address it with a firm hand.

Should an NRL television or radio broadcaster lose their lollies and lament what they perceive as an appalling decision, a questionable hip-drop or a ludicrous suspension, I guess that all adds to the theatre and drama of the coverage.

Colour and theatre in commentary is one thing from the broadcasters, yet very different when it emanates from club officials. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

It is essentially their role to add discussion points and get people talking about them. However, it is not for club officials to do the same, especially when matters still need to play out from a due process perspective, in the immediate days that follow the event.

Gould has shown a keen awareness of theatre throughout his playing, coaching and administrative career and a cynic might suggest that he is currently employing it to defend the Bulldogs’ position, whilst also using his intimidating reputation to avoid any serious repercussions along the way.

Abdo should have made it abundantly clear to Gould via the Bulldogs CEO, that his comments and criticisms are not seen in a good light by other clubs that are concerned by their impact.

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However, not even a slap over the wrist has been administered, something Phil Gould is becoming very used to receiving and ignoring.

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