Off the Wall

This week the game has to confront two different, but equally significant challenges - and one has to hope the NRL CEO gets back from yet another overseas trip sooner rather than later.

The game needs real leadership now more than ever.

The inquiry into an attempted betting "sting" in the Cowboys v Bulldogs game last weekend has suddenly got a whole lot more serious. Initially dismissed as "minor" it now appears those involved in a bet that the Cowboys would score the first points, and by a penalty kick, stood to win something like $250,000.

Minor? I think not. And to win that amount he or they invested around $20,000.

The fact that the sting did not come off is irrelevant.

The NRL has appointed the Chief Steward of NSW Racing, Ray Murrihy to investigate the matter - and he now says he is likely to hand the whole business over to the police.

The issue must be treated seriously - for it strikes at the integrity of the game an inevitably raises serious questions about the extent of betting allowed on NRL matches after the kick off.

The second issue is potentially catastrophic for the whole game.

As I have commented on in the past, rugby league is, for better or worse, more dependent on gaming machine revenue than any other football code.

Over half the NRL premiership teams depend to some extent on revenue from gaming machines in their leagues clubs. Hundreds of league teams around the nation depend on it as well.

The newly elected Independent MP, Andrew Wilkie, did not campaign on his opposition to the war in Afghanistan or rebuilding the Hobart General Hospital - he campaigned almost entirely against poker machines.

He has put the issue on the agenda - and is demanding a $1 limit on bets, the effect of which would be to slash revenue, and profits, massively.

The NRL, and the ARL, need to enter the looming debate over the issue. There have been efforts to reduce poker machine numbers, and turnover, for some years - but they have largely been ineffective.

Anyone watching the political landscape, as I do, will tell you the issue is now very much back on the agenda, not just because of the Independent MP who will share the balance of power, but also because the Greens, who will soon have the balance of power in the Senate, are also very keen on reducing the impact of poker machines.

If rugby league administrators think the issue is just a one day wonder, they need to think again.

They need to make sure the voice of rugby league is heard - so that whatever rules are brought in (and brought in they will be) don't destroy rugby league's funding base...especially at the grass roots level.

It won't be an easy task, as opposition to the impact of poker machines on communities is on the rise.

It is becoming a populist cause - and not just for independents and minor parties.

Rugby league is hopeless when it comes to having the voice, and interests, of the game heard in the political arena.

It needs to focus on this issue in a practical and constructive way. Demands for a hands off approach by government won't wash.

Apparently David Gallop has been in England attending the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley - a great occasion, but the relevance to the issues facing the game today escapes me.

The game needs real leadership - and it needs it now!

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