Off the Wall

The great game of rugby league does not deserve the headlines it had endured this week - and the week still has three days to run.

A Kangaroo and club captain allegedly urinating in public; a serial offender allegedly offending again; and, worst of all one of the games rising stars charged with serious drug offences.

There must be days when David Gallop takes his board to the surf and wonders if it might be better if he kept paddling - eastward! While he is well paid to have to address even the worst headlines, even he is entitled to some sympathy.

But my real concern is for what all of this is doing to the game where it really counts - among the junior players, boys and girls, who are the games future.

They don't deserve to have the game they love trashed. And nor to the senior, and not so senior, Australians for whom watching rugby league on television, or from the grandstand, from March to October probably rates just below Christmas in importance.

Rugby league supporters are a resilient lot. We probably have to be. But the bad headlines of this week, and too many other weeks this year, are undermining the game at a time when it cannot afford it.

Not even a raft of bad headlines for the other rugby code in the last couple of weeks lessens the damage rugby league suffers when players behave badly. The AFL has been having a better run of late - but that won't last.

It will be argued that what is happening with young rugby league players is "symptomatic" of what is happening in society as a whole today.

There is one difference - the men, and women, who carry on like yard dogs in Kings Cross, the Valley in Brisbane or in Surfers Paradise are not generally pulling somewhere between $150,000 and $300,000 a year from their employment.

Somehow or other we are going to have to the message through to players that their continued "earn" at levels several or many times that of the average citizen depends on three factors - television rights, sponsorship, and the support of league fans.

If the bad headlines continue, rugby league is simply not going to be the very marketable product it is today.

We have already seen a number of sponsors withdrawing from the game or reducing their commitment. Still more, including the games major sponsor, Telstra, are clearly looking closely at their future commitment.

On field, 2009 was a good year for rugby league. Off the field, there was some improvement but the events of this week have done real damage.

The Knights Danny Wicks is entitled to have his day in court, but the headlines today are not a good look, especially for a club that has worked hard to improve its public image.

The case of the Sharks Paul Gallen is more disappointing than anything else. That of the Roosters Jake Friend quite frankly defies comprehension. How many "last chances" can he get?

But another tragic consequence of players behaving badly is that the vast majority who are doing good things in the community, and for the game, don't get the recognition they deserve.

Today's Daily Telegraph not unreasonably headlines the serious charges against Wicks, but a much less prominent piece is really what rugby league needs to move heaven, earth and whatever is in between to promote.

The One Community programme promoted by the NRL is expanding the number of worthy causes it supports.

Today's Telegraph has a story about two players - Souths Jamie Simpson and the Eels Tim Mannah - supporting the work of the Cancer Council with young cancer sufferers.

One hopes the minority dragging the game through the mud read the story. Jamie Simpson twice survived cancer as a child, and Tim Mannah's brother is suffering from a rare form of lymphoma.

The Cancer Council is one of the new partners in the Community One programme.

Perhaps the players who drag down the game should, instead of meaningless fines, be made to do real community service in partner charities and causes that are part of the One Community programme?

Jeff Wall