Off the Wall

When the leaders of the 16 NRL clubs - including coaches and senior players as well as officials - assemble in Sydney on Monday morning they will have the destiny of a great game in their hands.

That is not really overstating it. The game desperately needs the clubs to show leadership, put aside political and personal advantage, and put the game's future first and foremost.

One would think that could be taken for granted. But the events of the last month or so prove beyond doubt that self interest and vested interest are very much alive in the administration of the game today.

In the Sun Herald, Gus Gould implores the clubs to deliver an independent, and streamlined, administrative structure and to do so without compromise.

I could not agree with him more. We must have reform that is genuine, and the best available, not second or third best as a result of egos and vested interests being catered for.

Rugby league is a great "product". When you look at how Cricket Australia is undertaking what many regard as radical reform to ensure cricket's survival, you realise how lucky we are to have a "product" that has survived the test of time, triumphed in adversity, and has so far seen off challenges from other codes.

But we should take nothing for granted - a great "product" needs to be administered and marketed efficiently and sensitively.

The challenges from a well resourced AFL in particular require every available dollar to be spent on grass roots development, on ensuring as many of the game's stars can be accommodated within salary cap restraints, and on preparing the game for the challenges that will come when the next television rights deals are negotiated.

The AFL is run by an independent commission. Administrative duplication is limited. The AFL is doing everything it can to put itself in the best possible negotiating position for its television rights later this year.

Rugby league is today is a great game, but one burdened by a costly, duplicated and inefficient administrative structure.

The clubs can force change - even if that means the ARL and its affiliates have to be forced to accept change, or forced out of the way.

News Limited has committed to ending its 50 per cent ownership of the NRL - but it clearly, and not unreasonably, wants the ARL to step aside as well.

The clubs seem to be unanimous in their support for a single, independent administrative structure. The argument that they would neglect junior development etc is nonsense. The clubs need an expanded junior base - and they will ensure a streamlined administrative structure delivers it. The clubs are a mixed lot - some privately owned, some effectively owned by their leagues clubs, a couple are public companies.

But they have one thing in common - a belief in the need for a streamlined and independent administration that will give the game credibility at a vital time.

This is a vital meeting - it simply cannot afford to fail.