Off the Wall

It is always good to be able to be positive in my first column of a new year.

This year the good news for the game is that brand loyalty has scored a couple of important victories over the holiday period.

Willie Mason continues to be "homeless". All the posturing about seven figure sums on offer from union in Japan, France and who knows where seem to have fallen as flat as a camels foot.

The Sydney Morning Herald last week reported Mason was definitely headed for the Melbourne Storm. Within hours the Storm's CEO, Brian Waldron, dismissed the story in as unqualified a way as he possibly could!

Now we read that Mason's manager is on a desperate mission to the UK and France trying to find him a home for 2010 and beyond. I am sure the Roosters are following his travels with increasing interest, and concern. The last thing the Roosters want is to be lumbered with Willie Mason in 2010!

Brand loyalty chalked up another victory over the weekend when the ARU revealed that it was not remotely interested in Johnathan Thurston at his seven figure a season asking price. Thurston did his image no good at all when he effectively dismissed rugby league "loyalty" as a factor in determining his future, saying it was also about the "bucks". Charming!

Thurston's comments earned a very public rebuke from his Origin coach, Mal Meninga, and gave the Daily Telegraph a free hit which it wasted no time taking advantage of.

The news that the ARU won't be offering him what he (or his manager) wants simply confirms what I have written about in the past - the days of John O'Neill waving fat cheque books at NRL players are over. The ARU is in a parlous financial state, the rugby brand has taken a hammering, and the 2009 ratings were appalling.

Thurston may well look to Japan or Europe, or the UK Super League and, frankly, if the attitude he displayed in his it all about the "bucks" comment reflects his true view - and values - then we should not lose any sleep over where he may go.

I detect a growing sense of frustration among league fans that some players regard loyalty to rugby league as being totally irrelevant.

It is likely that the shameful way Karmichael Hunt (remember him?) allowed the AFL to use him to promote its entry into the Gold Coast contributed to that frustration, and anger.

I know that managers and agents are probably as much to blame as players, but that is no excuse for players who have not only been well paid, but have had the privilege of representing the game at the highest levels, dumping on the game when it suits them.

If players go to UK Super League towards the end of their career we should have no objection. That has been happening for years, even if it is becoming much more common...and we can largely thank the salary cap restrictions for that.

But when a player trawls his services before a rival code and comes a cropper we can chalk it up as an important victory for loyalty to the greatest game of all, and the fans who keep it so!