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Manly stalwart Peter " Zorba" Peters proudly refers to it as "God's country" but there is trouble in paradise, severe trouble, and until someone from the Sea Eagles steps up and takes the necessary action to reverse the hellish headlines of the past few days, then sadly we can expect more damaging press in the future.
Somebody, whether it's Coach Des Hasler, Chief Executive Grant Mayer or Zorba himself, must take swift, affirmative action for the greater good of the game. By that I mean, even if it is proved legally that the players embroiled in these incidents have no case to answer, the club must show leadership and send out a clear message that behaviour which contravenes common decency, be it of a moral or ethic nature, will not be tolerated.
Out of the mire here is an opportunity for the Manly club to win back public opinion by punishing those that transgress as in the case of serial offender Anthony Watmough, or perhaps that should be Anthony "What now?". The backrower may not have committed any crime in his altercation with a club sponsor and his daughter however, what is established fact is he added to his long list of misdemeanours. Congratulations Anthony you have graduated to "serial offender" status.
Watmough's conduct brought further bad publicity for the player, the club and the game. And the ramifications reverberate into the corporate world making it infinitely more difficult, not only for Manly but for all NRL clubs, to expand current sponsorship or attract new revenue streams. In the current global economic crisis more than ever, a sport can ill-afford even the slightest of negative press if it is going to survive let alone prosper.
The other football codes like a predator will pounce on every opportunity to further advance their cause. And they would be derelict in their duty if they didn't take advantage of rugby league shooting itself in the foot, or in the case of Manly of late, blowing the lower part of their leg off.
The problem for Rugby League in its tussle with rugby union, AFL and soccer for the corporate dollar is the other codes enter the battle with much heavier artillery. And ugly incidences such that have occurred involving the reigning premiers help like a hole in the head. When it comes to sponsorship, for the sponsor it's all about the level of exposure you can obtain and with whom you attach your brand to in order to enhance your image. If you took an independent survey, Rugby League would be running stone motherless.
So what do we do with the Watmoughs, the Greg Birds and the Todd Carneys? League legend Bob Fulton's solution of putting players into peer groups of five and having them be responsible to one and other has merit. Heavy cash fines where there is proof it has come out of the player's pocket and not paid by their club is a must.
But I would also impose a ban on playing representative football. That not only penalises the player financially, it also takes away something they cannot get back. There will only ever be one State of Origin Game 2 in 2009. You can always earn more money but you cannot replay a representative match. That will be a major deterrent, of that I am most certain.
Each player's misdemeanour must be treated individually and the punishment meted out has to reflect the severity of the incident. With that, there needs to be clauses to deal with repeat offenders - take note Messrs Bird, Watmough and Carney (apologises to those whom I have omitted).
For this to work and work properly, the players with their club's endorsement and backing of player managers and the NRL, need to initiate this course of action in order to establish their own code of conduct and set of penalties. The likes of a Steve Price, a Brett Kimmorley, an Alan Tongue, should be part of a steering committee that sees this through to the end and every player has to sign-off on it. This needs to be a legal document that is inserted into every NRL contract.
What must stop instantly, is the unwritten law whereby a player's ability, profile and status determines what level of punishment he receives when he flouts the law. For too long, leading players have got away with behaving disgracefully. Such inaction and leniency on the part of administrators has created the monster that is causing havoc within clubs.
Are the powers-that-be within the Sea Eagles manly enough to take decisive action even if it means making an example of one of their own?
For the future of the game at all levels, they simply have to!