Convicted … Ryan Tandy gives away a penalty. Photo: Courtesy of Fox Sports
''Even though we are the administrators of the past, the problems of today are exactly the same … '' - John Quayle
Former rugby league boss John Quayle has broken his 20-year silence about a flashpoint moment during his term when, at his behest, NSW detectives were on standby to investigate allegations two teams attempted to rig a game.
Quayle led league through a golden era in the 1990s which was remembered for record television ratings, the Tina Turner promotional campaign, lucrative sponsorships, the rise of footballers to A-list celebrities and a ''product'' considered so slick even parochial Victorians feared the 13-man game would swamp their code.
He told Fairfax Media that beneath the glitz and glamour there was a fear league could be vulnerable to the vices of drugs and gambling. ''I had two young players … I've always kept it quiet … who came to see me in relation to a particular game after it was indicated at training certain things were going to happen,'' Quayle said.
''The two players were opposed to it. They were disgusted it was even spoken about and they were in my office. I had the police department on standby because I would've exposed it all. The two players ultimately thought they couldn't give up their mates, a view which I respected at the time, but I knew at that stage how much under threat we, as a sport, was by certain individuals within the game and on the fringe.''
Quayle said the incident was not related to the infamous 1994 match between Western Suburbs and South Sydney at Campbelltown which former Rabbitohs forward John Elias wrote about in his biography, Sin Bin.
Quayle opposed the introduction of FootyTab in the 1980s because he wanted to protect the sport's integrity. The former international fears the NRL had gone too far by selling their logos to endorse betting on live games.
''Those two players would've exposed two clubs and a number of players that were involved,'' he said. ''I respected those two players firstly for coming to me and I respected them more with their words: 'John, we're very sorry, we can't give up our mates.' But between [former chairman] Ken Arthurson and I - and two police officers - we knew the people and the clubs [involved] and it would've been massive to have taken it on.
''The only way I could have taken it to the next step - the only way I could've released the names of the players involved, even if I couldn't get a conviction … - would've been at the detriment of the players, who couldn't put their hands up because, as I've said, they didn't want to give their mates up.''
Quayle said that just as he did when he gave drug testers the green light to raid South Sydney in 1990 after it was feared some players there were involved with drugs, he was prepared to live with the fallout from exposing the spectre of match-fixing.
''The greatest threat to any key athlete, as we've seen across the world in betting and drugs - you will live it for the rest of your life - you can't escape it,'' he said. ''It's why I think administrators, if there is any hint of it, shouldn't have any hesitation in exposing the problem. We've put guys out before for drugs, we've taken premiership points off teams. We will continue to do that and expose the people who think they're above it.
''While ever administrators are happy to excuse the few who think they're above the image and welfare of the game, we'll never eliminate it.''
Quayle said that while no charges resulted from the two players' revelations, he credited them for doing league a huge favour. ''It was good to know at the time that it could happen,'' he said. ''I believe those two players gave the game a great service; I always had a great faith the players would never tolerate it. One, two, three or even four in a team might - but never a whole team.''
Elias claimed the 1994 match at Campbelltown was fixed for the Rabbitohs to run dead until the ''Mr Bigs'' of Sydney's underworld called the deal off at the 11th hour. ''I don't relate my incident to his,'' Quayle said.
Elias, who played for Sydney teams Souths, Wests, Canterbury, Balmain and Newtown, confessed in his book Sin Bin he was offered $50,000 to ''buy'' four of his Souths teammates to play below their best against a Wests team, of which some members were paid to play the games of their lives.
Elias insisted the game was ''clean'' but he offered invaluable insights into what is required to fix a match:
❏ Four players needed to be involved on a one-in, all-in basis;
❏ The organiser said Elias's influence on his teammates was more important than his influence on the game;
❏ ''Squareheads'' had their price;
❏ Players were prepared to get into bed with the devil.
League has its examples of outside ''influences'' on matches. It has been said that before the 1963 grand final, Wests prop Jack Gibson, who became one of the code's great coaches, told his teammates they had no chance of winning because the money was on St George. Gibson's teammate Noel Kelly was more damning, accusing the referee, the late Darcy Lawler, of ensuring he won his bet on the decider.
''You're either robbed or you're not; you can only be dudded once,'' Kelly said. ''[Lawler] was a punter but he was also the referee and he had the whistle. I still stand and declare it did happen [Lawler bet on St George] but he controlled the game. Control the game, you can control the result.''
There are claims that another grand final, controlled by George Bishop in 1952, was also influenced by the referee's wager. However, Kelly said the scrutiny and television coverage of the modern game meant a referee would be foolish to even contemplate following Lawler's path. ''The way cameras are these days, a referee would be mad if he had a bit of a dip now,'' Kelly said. ''They pretty much have a camera around their necks for the coverage.''
More recently, Canterbury forward Ryan Tandy was banished from the game for his part in a spot-fixing incident during the 2010 North Queensland-Bulldogs match, an act that angered Quayle. ''If you take the incident that occurred a few years ago [Tandy], you could see how easy it can happen,'' Quayle said of match fixing. ''That's why my administration said [FootyTab] is going to pay us hundreds of thousands, maybe a million dollars, but we thought it was nothing towards the credibility of the game. I've always said if sport was getting a hundred million dollars a year it might be a decision, but if they're only getting five or 10 million from television and bookmakers to use their logos, it's certainly a very small price.
''Betting across the nation has always been a part of our culture. I'm not opposed to betting but I was opposed to using our name, our logo on television, and now the game has sold those rights and I'd hope it was $50 million a year plus to get that, because you can't have it both ways. None of us are opposed to gambling, it's how it is now open slather … we can go online and [bet] during the game, and when there's bets on certain things that can happen, including who'll score when, there'll always be a major risk.
''Anyone who says we won't have the problem of a couple of years ago is living in a fantasy land. It will happen here, as it has all over the world; someone will believe they have an edge, someone will believe they owe a lot of money and it's an easy way to make a quid. The game has to have the most secure integrity commission that can look at everything.
''The words that stayed with me from the time I spent with the great American NFL administrator Pete Rozelle in the '80s were: 'Son, if you think it's not happening, you're a bit of a fool. If you sweep it under the carpet and keep ignoring it, when it comes out it will bring your game to its knees. Always be in front of it.'
''Could I have proved [the two players' claims]? I don't know. But don't tell me it won't happen again because I can cite the Canterbury incident.''
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