Saturday Serve

NRL player Blake Ferguson, right, arrives at court with Anthony Mundine.

NRL player Blake Ferguson, right, arrives at court with Anthony Mundine. Photo: Getty Images

''I always liked blonde girls because I lived in Cronulla for a long time.''

It's misogynistic statements like this from Blake Ferguson as much as the word ''guilty'' which gives the NRL no option but to ban him from playing next season.

As soon as Magistrate Jacqueline Trad convicted Ferguson of indecently assaulting a young woman, the sacked Canberra Raider's career was in tatters.

But it's the arrogant, and at times offensive, line of defence his camp took which should make the decision to blacklist him an easy one for the NRL Integrity Unit.

Studies have shown that 45 per cent of rugby league supporters are women. The NRL risks alienating many of its fans if it allows another club to sign Ferguson for 2014.

After a string of unsavoury incidents involving players and women in recent years, the rugby league public has had a gutful.

It wants NRL boss David Smith to adopt a zero tolerance policy and show the exit to stars who mistreat women.

There was an outcry last year when North Queensland playmaker Robert Lui, convicted of assaulting his pregnant partner in 2011, returned from injury during the Women In League round.

The sight of Lui running around in a pink jersey designed to celebrate women's huge influence on the game was hypocritical and made a mockery of what the weekend is about.

Then last month Manly forward Richie Fa'aoso was charged with drink driving after a police pursuit, following an alleged domestic violence incident involving his wife.

He has strenuously denied the domestic violence charge, but it was more negative publicity which unfairly smears the vast majority of NRL stars, who are fine role models.

The league has done a terrific job recently in celebrating the huge input females have on the game's growth and well-being.

There's the annual Women In League round, and clubs were heavily involved in the recent White Ribbon Day, which is part of the campaign against violence against women.

The NRL's website states the number of women in senior, executive management or board positions has increased to 19 this year, up from 10 in 2011.

All admirable gestures, but they will be reduced to tokenism if Ferguson is allowed to immediately waltz back into the game.

Just before season kick-off in 2013 I attended a Women In League function in Canberra.

It was a terrific night and I left more convinced the input into the game from women remains under-appreciated.

Former Australian Women's Rugby League chair Sandra Sampson told me this week she would like to see more females in top level positions in the game.

Most would agree it's healthy, but the ''boys club'' culture that has been ingrained in men's sport for years needs to be slowly broken down.

The league is taking solid steps towards that, with increased player education regarding treatment of women and the appointment of the first NRL club chief executive who is a woman, Canterbury's Raelene Castle.

The NRL released a statement on Wednesday condemning Ferguson's actions; now it must back up its words with actions.

''I would like to say sorry to [the victim], I would never touch her in a sexual way,'' Ferguson said. ''I'm really sorry I mistaked [sic] her for the girl I hooked up with at Northies. I would never touch a girl like that if I didn't know them at an intimate level.''

It was another perceived ''defence'' from Ferguson, which ironically should be used as evidence to punt him from the game.

''It was quite difficult getting, basically, girls thrown at me,'' he said. ''I still haven't … come to terms with all the attention with photos and signatures and all that.''

The NRL should ensure he has at least 12 months in which posing for happy snaps is the last thing on his mind. Hopefully he gets the help he needs to turn himself around.

But this time the league has to listen to the fans and make it clear enough's enough.