THE BIG ISSUE: #10

By STEVE MASCORD

SO, three agents have been suspended for their roles in the Melbourne Storm salary cap drama – and they are taking the agent accreditation scheme to court.

George Mimis, David Riolo and Issac Moses say they did nothing wrong and there are reports that their defences will “reveal all” about what actually happened. Are you with me when I say: “about bloody time!”

See, we don’t actually know what the “Storm salary cap drama” was. We know they breached the cap by $3.78 million over five years when the infraction was initially valued at $1.7 million. We know it had something to do with a marquee at Olympic Park, with money being funnelled through for “corporate appearances”.

And that’s it. The rest is just speculation – boats and Harvey Norman electrical appliances and free flights home. You’ve heard players linked with this largesse but no-one had told us for certain.

The stripping of two premierships and order to repay prizemoney was a deterrent to other clubs cheating – no doubt. But if you don’t know exactly what the crime was, how can the punishment be a real deterrent? If I am suspended from my job at Rugby League Week for “unethical behaviour” but no-one ever says what it is I did, is it really a deterrent to any journo doing the same thing? They don’t know what behaviour it is they have to avoid!

The NRL probably thought everyone had largely forgotten about the Storm drama. Then came the Agent Accreditation Scheme story, and all those images of the team walking across the field in a phalanx (great PR from former Melbourne staffer Dave Donaghy) got a run again.

I hope the ARL Commission is not in the business of just waiting for things to go away. I would like to see the sealed section of the audit – the one that names names – made public when this latest legal action runs its course.

I want to read that Player X got a boat. Agent Y knew it was a rort, Player X may or may not have known. But name X and Y, OK? Melbourne Storm fans deserved to know exactly who, and to what degree, is responsible for the gaping spaces in their trophy cabinet.

The salary cap is about transparency yet how can the public trust the system when it is not privy to that transparency? Surely we can’t be far away from players’ salaries being published – that’s what happens in American sport.

It’s the only way to stop the whispering.

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THE Big Issue has stayed away from wrestling but we reckon the debate comes down to a simple question: is wrestling evil or just the latest attempt to get an advantage under the rules.

Colleague Matthew Johns recently wrote about an un-named coach who tells his players “I want to hear them screaming from the grandstands”. That, friends, is evil..

But despite the prevailing wisdom at the moment, I don’t think getting in wrestling coaches and trying to slow down the play-the-ball is evil. Sure, chicken-wings and prowlers are bad and players’ consciences should prevent them performing these tactics.

But, staying on the good and evil theme for a second, Michael Maguire was considered the Devil in England because of his use of wrestling. When he got back here, everyone else was doing it and you’ve not heard boo about South Sydney, have you?

Defences have always tried to slow the play-the-ball down. Would you rather return to attacking players diving on the ground.

I remember when there was a one-marker rule in the mid-week Cup (yes, I’m old). Alan Fitzgibbon instructed his Cronulla players to just run one-one after the dummy-half drew the marker. Boring – rule scrapped.

Since when was any rugby league tactic, good or bad, stamped out by consensus or sending observers to training? Tactics are stamped out by match officials and rule makers. In England they send chicken wing purveyors and rolling pin wielders to the sin bin for 10 minutes. We probably don’t need to do that because those practises are already on the decline

If we want to speed up the game – just tell the defenders to get off. There’s no need for petitions or hysteria. Anzac Day showed us we still have a perfectly compelling spectacle to sell to the public.

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A QUICK word on Origin being played in Melbourne.

I’ve written elsewhere that it’s more important for us to have a presence in Victoria than it is for NSW to win. If NSW doesn’t want to lose home games, then Sydneysiders should support  at ANZ by filling the place.

But it’s not such a bad idea to have the first Origin in Melbourne every year, is it? Every sport needs a pilgrimage and if we knew we were going to head down to Mexico every year for the first Origin, we could plan for it.

If we are going to take the fight to the AFL, we have to take it their backyard and we have to do it consistently.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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