THE BIG ISSUE: #12

By STEVE MASCORD

MANY people in rugby league have questioned why six NSW clubs would hold meetings behinds the backs of the other ten franchises and the Independent Commission.

At one stage last year, there were even whispers of a breakaway if delays in setting up the independent commission continued. Now the IC is there, these sides are still meeting. Why?

One reason above all: stadium policy.

Despite the outcry a month ago when Shane Richardson (who made the comments when he popped over to Redfern Oval for coffee with journalists from three newspapers who were there for a training session) said all Sydney games should be played at Allianz or ANZ,  the process towards a watered-down version of this has continued apace.

The Big Issue can tell you in simple terms what these six clubs are talking about. They want the NRL to take over the regular season the way they now run finals. The idea is that instead of the big stadia doing deals with clubs, they do them with the league, who assign games according to how many people they think they will attract.

That’s how things work in the finals since St George Illawarra and Wests Tigers were forced to play at the SFS and thousands were locked out while the likes of Melbourne and North Queensland played finals before tiny crowds in Sydney.

Under the proposal, ANZ would have 25 to 30 games and the league – in consultation with the clubs – would have the power to say which 25 to 30 they are. As the daily press reported last week, these games would involve revenue sharing between the teams involved. Some games would continue to be played at suburban grounds. The clubs will ask the venues, in exchanged for better matches, to reduce drink and food prices.

There’ll be double headers. The league will decide how many games each year are played in Perth, Adelaide, Wellington, Darwin, Christchurch and the rest. Matches will be played in the country. The Warriors could end up not going through customs for months on end as teams come to them, elsewhere in New Zeaand.

Why do these clubs want to be told what to do?

Simple: because there are powerful political forces within that are hard to stand up to. It’s hard to tell denizens of Wollongong, Kogarah, Leichhardt and Campbelltown they are getting fewer matches – unless it is presented as a directive from above. It’s a case of “please tell us what to do so we can blame you”, to put it bluntly.

Why is it only six clubs? Well, Newcastle doesn’t count – there’s no point in them moving home games anywhere – but Penrith, Cronulla and Manly are now on board. So are the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust, who initially sat back and watched the whole process.

Don’t kid yourself these clubs don’t want to move games away from their home grounds to make more money. They do. But they don’t want you getting on their backs – so they are asking the NRL to make the hard decisions for them.

Believe it or not, the World Club Challenge is tied up in all this. Forget what you’ve read about America – if these si clubs get their way the WCC will be played in the pre-season in Australia next year involving eight teams. The power these clubs weild with stadia will help them negotiate favourable deals and good promotion for the competition.

But the clubs want to share the wealth with all 16 teams – not just the four involved – and will insist the Super League teams involved do likewise, even though three of the four European participants in the WCC will be the same each year for ages.

As we said here last week, each game has to be treated as an event to find its own audience.

.

THE NRL is never going to put out a press release saying this, so I guess it’s got to be left up to us: coaches, you can bag referees as much as you like – just don’t question their integrity or use abusive language.

There’s been some consternation about Canberra coach David Furner being slugged $10,000 for his comments at Brookvale a couple of weeks back. As I journalist, I can’t support anything that inhibits free speech – that would be hypocritical.

But if I was running the NRL, I’d have exactly the rules they have now. If you ran a company, would you tolerate people under your jurisdiction getting on Twitter or Facebook and suggestion someone in your profession was dishonest or cheated? Would you allow one professional to call another in the same industry a “retard”, as Clint Greenshields recently did?

I think not.

But coaches can actually say a referee had a shocker, he got 10 things wrong, he should be dropped to reserve grade … you can rant for 10 minutes about how bad the match officials were. You just can’t used abusive language and you can’t suggest they had a preconception about the result or your team before they showed up – ‘cause that’s libellous.

So there you go, coaches – go for your lives …. within reason.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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