Off the Wall

If you did not back "Self Interest" in the race to reform the way rugby league is administered then it is too late to get on - it has emerged a clear winner once again.

We should not be at all surprised that the merging of the game's administrative structures has been at best "delayed" and at worst put off for at least another season.

The ARL meeting yesterday had a predictable outcome.

The ARL is "all for reform, but just not yet" is the message that seems to have emerged from the meeting.

But when you read the comments by Colin Love carefully, this line hardly holds out hope of early, or major, reform:

"There is general acceptance that the current structure could be improved........."

The reform agenda outlined in the News Limited newspapers today is not about improving the current structure - it is about jettisoning it completely.

The core of the proposal is that the game will be owned by the 16 NRL clubs. That is obviously the latest stumbling block. It is clear the ARL, and the NSWRL and QRL, are not going to surrender the current position they hold - effectively owning half the NRL as well as owning the wider game - without more compromises and concessions.

The ARL will believe that by delaying the process into 2010 will mean it will most likely survive in its current powerful role for another season. Totally restructuring the ownership, let alone management, of the game mid-season is not going to happen.

The holiday period will become a convenient excuse to push reform negotiations into 2010.

The frustration of News Limited is evident in today's "Daily Telegraph" where the influential sports editor, Phil Rothfield, describes the ARL bosses as "dinosaurs" who continue to frustrate and stall attempts to deliver independence (to the management of the game).

It remains to be seen just how patient News, and the 16 NRL clubs, will be. There is precious little they can do about the ARL, or its state components, the NSWRL and the QRL. They can frustrate the process as long as they want to because the NRL is half owned by News Limited, and half owned by the ARL. The 16 clubs don't have much influence over the ARL or its state bodies. In fact most clubs have no influence whatsoever over it.

The capacity of the ARL to stall the process is probably only limited by the force of public opinion and media pressure.

The ARL bosses may be dinosaurs - but they are good at the politics of the game, especially when their survival, and the perks that go with it, depend on it.

One suspects the ARL is not going to move without further concessions. The danger is that further concessions may so water down the whole reform process that it will be hardly worth the effort - if and when it finally gets off the ground!

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