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Rugby league, your image stinks, fix it


Todd Carney has probably played his last match in the NRL.

Todd Carney has probably played his last match in the NRL. Photo: Getty Images

On Saturday, around lunchtime, player agent Andrew Purcell asked me on Twitter "when did your shit stop stinking?".

The query was, as the late league journalist Peter Frilingos used to say, "apropos of nothing". In fact, my most recent posts had been a series of admissions about how bad I am at writing live match reports.

Of course, his choice of words would prove prescient, even if he confused his number ones with his number twos. The toilet was where the attention of rugby league would be focused by later that night.

John Hopoate squares up with Nathan Fien during the infamous match in Townsville in 2001.

John Hopoate squares up with Nathan Fien during the infamous match in Townsville in 2001. Photo: Getty Images

I have got no problem with Purcell, or anyone else, having a shot at me on social media. What I want to discuss is the sentiment inherent in his tweet: that we have all got something to hide, so none of us should highlight or condemn the actions of someone else.

My excrement certainly does still stink. I have and do perform acts which are drunken, stupid, sometimes even illicit and illegal. But it has never occurred to me to deposit that excrement in a shoe. I have never thought of simulating a sex act with an animal for a photo. The idea of imitating a drinking fountain, substituting my own urine for water, has not entered my head.

This is the bit where I am supposed to say, and have so many times before, that most NRL players are good role models and don't engage in anti-social behaviour.

Joel Monaghan left the NRL after an incident with a dog.

Joel Monaghan left the NRL after an incident with a dog. Photo: John Shakespeare

But bugger that.

Rather than try to reassure outsiders that rugby league is not as feral as it seems, right now it's more important to tell the delusional insiders reading this ... how feral it seems.

Firstly, there are the matters that go before the courts every two or three weeks: assault, domestic abuse, etc. Then there are acts that most people would not even conceive of unless they heard of a footballer doing them.

If you live in most parts of the world where they have heard of rugby but don't know there are two varieties, the last time you heard of the NRL was when a talk show mentioned John Hopoate poking someone's bum, or Joel Monaghan posing with a dog. "So this guy who drinks his own urine is from the same rugby competition as those guys? Holy Hell. It's a menagerie down there."

Rugby league's popularity in NSW and Queensland ferments ignorance. Players have no concept of the extent to which many, many people in this country look down on them as "meatheads" playing a "low-rent" sport. You think you are stars but to a large part of Australian society, you are lamentable outcasts.

How do you think it would feel to be an unpaid development officer in Hobart, running on chook raffles and borrowed goalpost pads, when the only time you make the local press is when an NRL player defecates in a hallway? This is the sport you are devoting all your spare time to? These guys are on a fortune and you're being paid nothing?

A former Cronulla chief executive, Damian Irvine, is right: we are expected to laugh at Paul Gallen knocking out Beau Ryan on Mad Monday when in fact it is appalling.

I am fond of saying player behaviour has improved 200 per cent over the past 15 years. But perhaps it has only improved 100 per cent, with the other 100 going underground, hidden beneath cliched soundbites and spin. Pull up the carpet and there is still malevolence.

The rebellious response to Carney's sacking from Sharks players represents a tipping point for the game's culture in this country. It's not just a clash of cultures, it's a war of ideologies.

On one side, there is an eternal boys club, an Orwellian Animal Farm that has arisen as a result of a male-only workplace, too much money, too much time and countless troubled childhoods.

This group wants the media blamed for reporting what they do (even when not a single paper was printed between the Carney picture emerging and his sacking), they want punching and shoulder charges reinstated, they think spewing and shitting and pissing are funny.

On the other is a governing body run by a former corporate banker trying to figure out why twice as many Australian women say they have been to an AFL game as to a rugby league match, and why rugby union still gets blue-chip sponsors despite all other indicators of its health indicating imminent cardiac arrest.

The reason is in a picture circulated on Twitter on Saturday night.

I say let the first knuckle-dragging group go, let them form their own competition with their own fans (including you, who is already seething about this column), sponsorship and media. Punt them – or they'll drag us down with them.

The romantic, historical view of rugby league is that it represented a social upheaval at the end of the industrial revolution; it empowered working-class people whose talents were being exploited for the profit of the elite running rugby union.

But I am beginning to think that is romantic nonsense. I am beginning to think it was just a grab for cash by people who had no other means to make some, and that is all it means to those people more than a century later.

Prove me wrong, David Smith.

After 119 years of wallowing in its own – yes Andrew, stinking – slime, the game is now at a point where it can either finally escape, or stay there forever.


  • You're worried about rugby league now? After group sex, alleged rapes, violence on and off the field, drugs, gambling and it takes a guy playing with his willy to be the straw that broke the camel's back?

    Meanwhile in soccer la la land, they kill a thousand people to build some stadiums, bite each other, 600 hundred games under investigation by INTERPOL, no drug testing, dubious decisions deciding games, have serious amounts of money trousered by the most shady characters and nobody bats an eyelid. Soccer makes rugby look professionally run.

    Face reality, all sport other than the most amateur ones are stuffed.

    is wrecked
    Date and time
    July 01, 2014, 3:58PM
    • Here comes the 'Point the finger' brigade.
      We have no better justification of the condition the League is in, so lets try to move focus to soccer instead.

      Not Really
      Date and time
      July 01, 2014, 4:14PM
    • Don't think the NRL has any control over international soccer.

      Date and time
      July 01, 2014, 4:19PM
    • No. It's just Australian sports that are stuffed. That's why no-one outside of Australia has even heard of these clowns who pass for legends in these parts. Big fish in a paddling pool.

      Date and time
      July 01, 2014, 4:32PM
    • Just another comment to bash football .... the article is about the behavior of the players off the field. I attend A- League/Socceroos matches because I want my kids to look at sportsmen as role models not imbeciles.

      Tim Cahill/Mark Schwarzer OAM V Todd Carney/Blake Ferguson... I wonder whose code aspires our kids to greater things ?

      Date and time
      July 01, 2014, 4:40PM
    • Sorry sport, but, what does soccer have to do with this article? What does soccer have to do with how stupid RL players are?????

      Date and time
      July 01, 2014, 4:53PM
    • If Carney had done this stunt for an ABC TV show it would be labelled as satire and absolutely harmless. The double standards in sport and life are everywhere. Just look at the supposed 'blackest day in sport', politically manipulated, claims of unlawful processes, no major findings or actions. Look at cricket, life bans and jail for match fixing in the gentleman's sport. Look at soccer, one of the top three players in the world on the biggest stage bites an opponent in front of 3 billion viewers and denies it. Back to Carney, the civil libertarians would say Carney has the right to be who he is whilst on the other hand demanding his head.

      enough is enough
      Date and time
      July 01, 2014, 4:58PM
    • Ah, softball fans, a bit touchy aren't we. Why don't you comment against my FACTS? So, its OK to kill a thousand people to build stadiums?

      Rugby, AFL, Soccer, Cricket (who have just appointed a guy under investigation for corruption as the head of the ICC) have all been wrecked. The Officer Barbrady approach to life, 'move along, nothing to see here'

      is wrecked
      Date and time
      July 01, 2014, 5:04PM
    • @enough is enough - never miss an opportunity to rant against the ABC. Just tell us all when their chief executives were arrested for phone hacking , bribery and corruption charges. As the man said, this is about the stupidity of Rugby League players, not LNP spin doctors. Give it a rest, mate.

      eieio and away we go
      Date and time
      July 01, 2014, 5:13PM
    • @sport. I love and breath rugby league but your comments don't help our game. This article was about league. As the first post all you did was deflect to other sports then argued for people to disprove your facts. Well how about we address the facts in this article. Whether you like it or not there are problems in this code just like others but we wont ever fix them if we don't first acknowledge them, your attitude helps no one.

      Date and time
      July 01, 2014, 5:27PM

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