Rugby League

Saturday Serve

NRL's X-Factor stars like Todd Carney seem drawn to scandal

Todd Carney. Josh Dugan. Blake Ferguson. Joel Monaghan. What do they all have in common?

If you answered they're all former Canberra Raiders, you'd be correct. If you said they've all found bizarre and unsavoury ways to get themselves sacked, right again. 

But the answer I'm looking for here is they're all X-factors. Representative-quality players all capable of concocting a match-winning piece of brilliance out of nothing. 

Why is it players embroiled in a scandal are usually high profile? Former Raiders skipper Alan Tongue suspects it isn't coincidence. 

"You often see the guys that are the 'big play' players or the risk takers, that's in their personality and mentality,'' Tongue said.

"They're often the guys who are like that off the field as well. You look at a few other players, the past greats of the game who are like that too.


"People expect so much of you on the football field, and if you're not really confident in who you are and what you stand for, you think 'I have to be the life of the party, or do the big funny thing here'.

"It goes both ways. The more well known you are, the more perks you get.''

Past and former teammates have leapt to Carney's defence after the moment of madness which is likely to end his NRL career. 

But NRL bosses have clearly had a gut-full of the game being in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Chief operating officer Jim Doyle said it was ''highly unlikely'' Carney would be registered for another club. 

The Roosters' late attempt to register a contract with Ferguson, sacked by the Raiders last year, before the June 30 deadline was swiftly thrown out.

It's a clear warning to every player, poor behaviour will not be tolerated as the sport desperately tries to shed the image held by those outside league circles that ''it's just a game played by grubs''.

As is the NRL's decision to introduce a ''no dickheads policy'' in its salary cap overhaul from next year, which allows clubs to sack a player and use the funds to buy a replacement or upgrade another player. 

You can just imagine the thoughts on Raiders officials' minds on Friday when this was reported by The Sydney Morning Herald: "If only this no dickheads policy was in place a year ago.''

It's remarkable how many Raiders fans were calling for the club to bring Carney home, despite his latest transgression which has left the game with another black eye. 

Poor on-field results, and the club's failure to lure other big names, has sparked an air of desperation in the fan base.

On Friday, the Raiders officially ruled out any chance of a Carney return. It's the right move. The Raiders haven't been afraid to send other disruptive influences on their way, an admirable stance on their part. 

Coach Ricky Stuart has waxed lyrical about ''creating a new culture'' and ''building something special'' within the playing group in his first season. 

Giving Carney another chance would contradict that. 

Since his retirement in 2011, Tongue has worked in the NRL's education and welfare department.

He says young players entering the game have it beaten into them to uphold the game's image. 

"It [Carney's indiscretion] isn't a criminal matter, but we do the rookie camps and one of the first things we talk about is the social media side of things and the pitfalls of it," he said.

"There's no excuse for not understanding what you need to do in the game. 

"The biggest ambassadors for our game are the players, it's a privilege and honour that comes with non-negotiables. 

"If you're doing it tough in footy and finally you get a win and go out for a beer, you let your emotions out and things can go wild.

"I'm not excusing myself from it because I've used alcohol as an outlet myself. I haven't been in a situation because it's not the person I am, but this can happen.''

Former Raiders teammate Joel Thompson, now at St George Illawarra, defended Carney on Twitter the night before he was sacked. 

"Whoever leaked that photo of Toddy is nothing but a dog ... Can't even have a joke in the privacy of a toilet #feelforhim,'' he tweeted.

"It was his idea of a harmless joke between him & the so called mate in private. Toddy never hurt anyone.''

True, but he did tarnish the game's image. Again.

Unfortunately these incidents overshadow the great work NRL players do in the community, such as Raiders skipper Terry Campese's tireless charity work.  

The "boys will be boys" defence is an archaic argument. Modern players are on huge salaries, and as Tongue rightly said, it comes with non-negotiables. 

Like it or lump it, that's where professional sport is. The NRL has made it clear with its "no dickheads policy" the standards they expect are now much higher.