WHITE LINE FEVER Column: December 2016/January 2017

p1_coverBy STEVE MASCORD

THE real question in the current imbroglio between the NRL and its clubs is not who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong.
It’s which group is worse.
Firstly, the basics. The clubs are trying have Australian Rugby League Commission chairman John Grant ousted. They have the required votes. What they are angry about is a promise to give them 130 per cent of total player payments from 2018 being broken when Grant came back from the Rugby League International Congress in Liverpool.
A memorandum of agreement was “taken off the table”, causing a group of chairman to walk out of a meeting at Moore Park’s League HQ in Sydney. Subsequent meetings were postponed when the chairmen refused to show up.
Let’s start with the clubs. They have all their player wages and travel expenses covered by head office but only one of them returned a profit last year. Why? Because they spend so much money trying to out-do each other via high-priced coaches, cutting-edge technology and expensive scouting networks.
In most cases the clubs run their own local junior leagues, too. They have under 20s sides and a reserve grade team of some kind. In Sydney, any short-fall is made up by grants from Leagues Clubs, which are basically giant poker machine palaces that get tax breaks precisely because they support junior rugby league.
The entire structure of the traditional Sydney clubs is mired in the past, when players played for beer money and TV rights were worth a few thousand dollars.
Now to the so called “Independent Commission”.
Australians love a “commission”. Forming one is what they do when there is perceived to be a problem with something. There’s the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Australian Football League Commission, etc, etc.
All eight members of the commission are independent of the clubs. Under chairman Grant, in its four years the ARLC has performed an almost complete clean-out of the NRL, on the back of an army of consultants picking the brains of existing staff members and using the information to appoint those staffers’ new bosses.
Grant’s big mistake in promising the 130 per cent of player wages to the clubs is that he underestimated their deviousness and desperation. Now the clubs stood to make more money, the more the players were paid – so the players and clubs were suddenly allies and the central body became a giant cash cow.
But the question has to be asked: if the clubs are truly calling for Grant’s head because he’s shown incompetence, then why didn’t they point it out to him in the first place instead of pulling the wool over his eyes?
Like in England, rugby league in Australia needs blowing up and starting again. Like just about everywhere, it’s a cargo cult driven by self-interest.
In truth, the clubs should just be shells. Twenty five players, a capped staff selling tickets and sponsorships and that’s it. Everything else should be run from head office. The best model for the sport would be the lean teams making money for the the rest of the game, franchises in the true sense.
Junior development would be run centrally, players would change clubs via a draft.
But would I trust THIS head office not to make a mess of this fantasy scenario? Definitely not….

Filed for FORTY-20 MAGAZINE

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