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Men of dollars, and sense, required

It has taken rugby league more than 100 years to reach prudent adulthood. On Wednesday night, the NRL season launch at Sydney's Star casino is also a celebration of the code's new status as a superannuated man.

Every year, since the birth of rugby league in Australia in 1908, it has attacked the bottom line via cost cutting, rather than revenue raising.

Now, with an independent commission of businessmen in charge, it has taken only 12 months to more than double income and pledge a minimum of 10 per cent a year to a future fund.

ARL Commission chairman John Grant has indicated he wants the code's savings to generate its own reliable income, insulating it from bankruptcies of its broadcasters, rained-out seasons, the attacks of rival codes.

Rugby league now stands like the brilliant English essayist Charles Lamb, when asked one candle-lit London evening to front the firm of partners for whom he had loyally worked 36 years.

They awarded the modest, honest clerk a pension of two-thirds his salary for life. As Lamb wrote in The Superannuated Man, ''I am now as if I had never been other than my own master''.

Apart from the ARLC, the NRL's players deserve the credit for putting

on the show that has attracted the big dollars from broadcasters and sponsors. Their skills are the result of dedicated labour.

Having watched an off-season where the Eels trained in Armidale and the Storm endured their merciless preparation in Melbourne, these young men are as devoted to their duties as Lamb was diligent at his desk.

No wonder Australia's Super Rugby union players nickname rugby league ''more better''. It is a term with the odd mix of respect and derision. It derives from a Rabbitohs fan who occasionally also watches the Swans and Randwick.

Perhaps he is one of those Souths supporters whom Rabbitohs management once bussed from a nearby shelter and seated behind the opposition coach's bench at the old Redfern Oval.

The unfortunate fellow, obviously bored by the fumble-a-thon of AFL and the penalty-punctuated game of rugby union, yells out, ''Rugby league more better.''

Super Rugby players, educated in private schools, are clearly having a dig at the fellow's grammar but they clearly respect the 13-a-side game.

They bid farewell at training, volunteering they are off to watch ''more better'' on TV.

It's the skills of the NRL players that have brought the deserved lift in their salary cap. But while the superannuated Lamb ''was suddenly lifted up into a vast revenue'' and free ''to go where I please, to do what I please,'' rugby league players are not.

Full-time professionalism has allowed players to hone the skills we admire but their extra leisure time means they are more susceptible to gambling, drug and alcohol abuse and the attention of criminals and other urgers.

Dally M winner Ben Barba was to launch the NRL season but has withdrawn, following admissions of problems with gambling, alcohol and the break-up with his childhood sweetheart and mother of his two children. He recognised the hypocrisy of being the smiling face of a new season while struggling with demons within.

While there is no suggestion Barba was linked with drugs, his vulnerability is typical of that identified in the recent Australian Crime Commission report.

The AFL's answer to the ACC investigation is to consider appointing integrity officers to each club, effectively policemen who watch for signs of illicit drug use, the supply of performance-enhancing drugs by unregistered sports scientists, salary cap cheating by player agents and club executives, excessive gambling and association with criminals.

In short, the integrity officer is an all-seeing eye over the club. Yet integrity must come from within, not check-listed from outside.

Players and officials must want to do the right thing because it is the right thing, so that even the recruits raised in dysfunctional homes eventually learn what are correct and proper codes of behaviour.

The Bulldogs have a distinctive culture, albeit still insular, and have approached Barba's recent problems with dignity. But the massive turnover of NRL personnel, with only a quarter of today's club bosses remaining from a few years ago and only two NRL clubs with more than 50 per cent of their players from the 2010 season, means correct codes of behaviour are hard to nurture.

Furthermore, clubs are increasingly recruiting staff from outside, meaning the day is rapidly approaching when there won't be a ''football person'' in a boardroom.

While the code now has a pension plan, NRL clubs need more football men staying long enough - like the decent Lamb - to collect their own superannuation cheques.

12 comments so far

  • What Masters han't notcied is that once it's at a healthy level, the fund means the players union can huff and puff about a strike as much as it wants. That ship will have sailed by then and either a delayed start or an alternative comp can be brought in. Any compensation they might have to pay to broadcasters can be easily absorbed by deferring a payment.

    Meanwhile, broadcasters had betetr not get too smug either. A few clubs have been running their own little video programming. If the NRL decides to get serious about an on-line NRL channel, these clubs will be set to ramp things up and provide the content if the money is there to help them do so.

    Commenter
    YS
    Date and time
    February 27, 2013, 9:45AM
    • Except Roy that it hasn't even nearly reached adulthood. That is an absolute joke. Most NRL players are locked into male adolescent mindset.

      I understand that this is your game but let's be a little honest about this code. Twenty three assault or sexual assault incidents in 2008 - the game's centenary year and countless similar ever since. The game might be fast, actually it is too fast moving really and the focus on skills has greatly dropped away since the 80's. It's all about bigger hits these days.

      The players however can't make independent decisions, they need "the boys" to back up their every move, have a mob mentality especially when it comes to fights and off-field incidents and are generally not well educated and anti-culture. They are anything but mature.

      Commenter
      Johnno
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      February 27, 2013, 10:27AM
      • Johnno,
        You remind me of 'Peta' who said an almost identical thing in a separate article a few days, and also quoted the 23 assaults from 2008 statistic.

        I find this odd for a couple of reasons.
        1) How did two different people decide to use a statistic from 5 years ago?
        2) I simply cannot find these 23 assault cases anywhere. I can't even get close to 23. The only one I can find easily involves Benji Marshall - and in that case it was an attempted set-up by two guys who thought they could provoke him, record his reaction and sell it for a tidy sum. Unfortunately for them, Marshall was a complete gentleman, and had the security tapes and the venue staff to prove it.

        Commenter
        Paul
        Location
        Brisbane
        Date and time
        February 27, 2013, 4:44PM
      • I think mate there might be a number of people who've seen this. You seem more interested in opposing and debunking it if it does in fact exist.

        I remember it being discussed in the media at the time. A big deal was made of the high number of incidents as I recall. There was general agreement that the NRL paid off complainants with a commercial-in-confidence agreement for the payment.

        It doesn't really matter mate. League is so on the nose that anyone could spend a few minutes and come up with any number of incidents which have been reported in the media.

        It might interest you to know that police now routinely JUNIOR league games in Brisbane because of the off-field violence which has at times spilled onto the field.

        There are always many more police on duty after NRL games at Suncorp than for the soccer and especially rugby because the fans basically behave themselves. On the contrary there are always street or pub fights following the NRL games.

        Are you beginning to get any idea yet of how this code works?

        Commenter
        Geoff G.
        Location
        Petrie Terrace
        Date and time
        February 27, 2013, 9:02PM
    • The last thing that I would like my son to be is a Rugby League player and associating with the drug and alcohol culture that's all around it.Listen to old rugby league players speak their brains have been wrecked with hits on the head and effects of drug and alcohol addiction.How many of them die young and penniless I hate to see young Aboriginal men getting in to Rugby League as they have it tough to start with and this game will ruin long term their life.Short term rewards are fine along with the drugs and alcohol bets and fame but life is a long haul

      Commenter
      don
      Date and time
      February 27, 2013, 2:18PM
      • The last thing I would want to do is defend rugby league players, but your comments require some sort of response. If you want to protect your child from drugs & alcohol, stopping him from playing rugby league is not the answer. How many girls binge drinking or use drugs have played rugby league. Before you say that the fathers, brothers or boyfriends play rugby league, alcohol and drug abuse is a problem throughout society. From bartenders to barristers, nurses to nannies its everywhere. I would be more concerned about fostering your sons self-esteem and morality than hoping he doesn't end up playing a game.

        Commenter
        dream ON
        Location
        Ryde
        Date and time
        February 27, 2013, 8:08PM
      • It's because of the culture of this game which fosters that behaviour but pretends not to in the public eye. By not playing, he would at least be protected from a toxic culture which actively harms proper human development..

        Commenter
        Geoff
        Location
        Brisbane
        Date and time
        February 27, 2013, 9:05PM
      • Geoff G must live in a different world.

        RU fans in Brisbane are the most obnoxious of the lot. Ask a Brisbane cabbie or better still come to watchhouse & courts after one of their major games.

        Commenter
        Big Bert
        Location
        Brisbane
        Date and time
        March 01, 2013, 2:30PM
    • A thoughtful column, Roy. It seems to me the lack of older, wiser footballers around NRL clubs is one of the most insidious problems of the salary cap... Once upon a time, old clubmen stayed around and guided the younger blokes. Now salary cap pressures generally mean fottballers are pushed out the door as soon as their best seasons have passed.

      Commenter
      Wendy
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 27, 2013, 3:34PM
      • Roy - the new commission may have increased the revenue and savings - but it has no idea about the history of the game. why else would it recruit as its GM someone who does not know the name of the current national captain; doesn't know who Ben Barba is and then forgets to invite 3 of the immortals to season opening. fan-bl***y-tanstic

        Commenter
        Saint Mike IV
        Location
        Kiama Downs
        Date and time
        February 27, 2013, 10:49PM

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