Rugby League

The three criteria most of the NRL's troublemakers have in common

Mitchell Pearce, Todd Carney, Michael Jennings, Greg Bird, Josh Dugan, Blake Ferguson, John Sutton, Russell Packer, James Roberts, Valentine Holmes and Willis Meehan have all made headlines in recent years for the wrong reasons but that is not all they have in common.

Each of those players and most others who find themselves in trouble for off-field incidents meet the following three criteria in that they:

Admission: Mitchell Pearce is getting help for his alcohol problem.
Admission: Mitchell Pearce is getting help for his alcohol problem. Photo: Getty Images

* joined first grade squads almost straight from school;

* have little real life experience; and 

* are repeat offenders.

It is a trend causing concern within the game as frustrated officials consider how to reduce the damage caused by players behaving badly.


Among some of the solutions being explored are a mandated half day off per week for all NRL players to focus on professional development and restricting players from making their debuts until the year they turn 19. 

A Queensland insider told Fairfax Media after six members of the Emerging Maroons squad broke curfew last Saturday night and Holmes was fined by police over a 4am incident at a Fortitude Valley taxi rank that such camps were a way of weeding out players considered unsuitable for Origin.

However, others believe there is a simpler way to identity players at risk of getting themselves in trouble.

"There is a pretty common theme with most of these guys," one official said.

"In about 95 per cent of cases, they made their first grade debuts when they were young, they haven't got many other interests outside the game from an educational or work perspective and most are repeat offenders who probably didn't quite get it right when they were young."

In other words, they were able to infringe at a young age without the same consequences as lesser players because of their potential.

Carney and Roberts are known to have had dozens of offences against their names when they were coming through the junior ranks or rookie NRL players but Canberra and South Sydney respectively stood by them for a long time before eventually sacking them.

Bird, Dugan, Ferguson, Packer, Meehan, Jake Friend, Chris Sandow, Dane Nielson and Paul Carter are other players to have been sacked in recent years.

Few of those players who have been in trouble came through the Under 20s National Youth Grade competition, in which players are required to either study at university or TAFE or do an apprenticeship.

The RLPA is seeking a mandatory half day off per week so that all players can spend time studying or pursuing other interests outside the game.

"I'm a firm believer that good people make good footballers and if you are well organised off field you will be better organised on it," RLPA chief executive Ian Prendergast said.

Departing NRL head of strategy Shane Richardson outlined another measure in his blueprint for the game's future, which would preclude players signing with an agent until their 17th birthday and making their NRL debut before the year they turn 19.

Under Richardson's proposal, clubs would have 30-man squads plus six players aged 18 to 20 on rookie contracts who could not be paid more than $60,000 per year, including allowances for education.

As a result, those players are considered more likely to study or complete an apprenticeship for a trade.

The number of players each club would be allowed to sign on rookie contracts is based on statistics which show that only 20 per cent of NYC players play NRL before turning 21.

If agents and clubs are unable to sign players before they turn 17, it is believed that they would be more likely to stay at home and complete their schooling - particularly those from rural towns or Pacific Islands who often have trouble adjusting to life in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Auckland.