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Mitchell Pearce's 120 seconds of drunken stupidity on Australia Day hit Rugby League Central like a perfect storm and the wreckage will endure well after it has blown its last ruinous breath.
Mitchell Pearce fronts the media
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Mitchell Pearce fronts the media
Mitchell Pearce makes a brief statement apologising for his drunken behaviour caught on camera on Australia Day.
The Roosters captain's simulated sex act with a dog precipitated the worst deluge to hit the code because it transcended the rugby league/sport universe in the same way the Todd Carney bubbler incident and John Hopoate's finger had massive reach, attracting interest from people not remotely interested in the game, or Australian sport.
The 26-year-old managed to offend just about everyone: the animal welfare lobby is angry, women's groups are furious, the indigenous community is aggrieved, gay and lesbian advocacy groups are upset, his teammates and club are furious, and the rest of the community is either offended or smug in their condemnation of the game.
Long term, Pearce's bone-headed behaviour, admittedly at a private party, will affect his own constituency – the current generation of NRL players.
Any hope of delegating player discipline to the RLPA has been abandoned forever.
Former Melbourne Storm chief executive Mark Evans spent three months working on plans at RL Central to empower the RLPA, in the same way the AFLPA has taken on responsibility for player welfare and education.
The AFLPA receives 10 times more than the RLPA's budget, most coming from the AFL, which has delegated its welfare and education responsibilities in exchange for reliable funding.
Some NRL coaches saw merit in the RLPA exercising discipline over recalcitrant players, particularly with former leaders (and reformed Rooster Mick Crocker) now working for the organisation.
But the Pearce disaster has had the reverse effect: the next collective bargaining agreement with players, to be negotiated over the forthcoming two years, will have savage punitive conditions for player misbehaviour with investigative powers and sanctions remaining the province of RL Central.
Sure, the RLPA will be better resourced by headquarters and entrusted with responsibilities, but a strict code of behaviour will not be a negotiable condition of the bargaining with ARLC chairman John Grant.
Controversy: Mitchell Pearce in the notorious video. Photo: Courtesy Diimex.com
The reality is that if Pearce, with a perfect pedigree, eight years in the top grade and a club co-captain, hasn't learnt from past indiscretions, how can anyone entertain the idea of the inmates taking charge of the asylum?
The NRL will probably delay announcing a sanction because it may not be convinced he gets it even now.
Sure, he has apologised, recognised that he needs help in terms of alcohol use and accepted responsibility. But some officials will want to see him show some insight into the damage he has inflicted on his teammates, his club, the league and the code.
The ruin is both intangible – people's perceptions of the game – and measurable in terms of the sponsors that walk or the potential sponsors that direct their money elsewhere. There is a reason the NRL's sponsorship coffers (and that of the clubs) are comparatively underwhelming for a sport that consistently delivers the biggest TV events in the country. The answer lies in a regular off-season of "atrocities".
Compared to past deeds, such as eating a host's goldfish, Pearce's cruelty to animals wasn't at the top of the scale. But players of the past didn't live in a digital world where they were captured on mobile phone cameras and the vision sold to the media.
Dallas Donnelly was probably only one schooner away from pissing in a cupboard (not on a lounge), but never too drunk to notice a low-life filming him. In any case, there would have been a more sober teammate watching his back.
Yet Pearce took two young recruits from the Broncos to a party that, in effect, became a "welcome to the Roosters" evening.
The Roosters are, of course, exposed to more scrutiny than other teams – the Storm, Cowboys and Warriors for example.
Eastern Suburbs bars and nightclubs are the home for just about every criminal and wanna-be crook in Sydney. Throw in a burgeoning designer drug scene in the area and other temptations for young men and you have a pretty volatile environment.
The NRL makes up about 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the news cycle in Sydney so there is more intense scrutiny in this market than in some others.
If you live in other Australian cities, you can see the damage Pearce did. Coming at the end of a relatively sedate off-season, his perfect storm blew away lots of good work and gave the haters a reason to hate!