Off the Wall

I am sure there are any number of club officials, and NRL officials, who are convincing themselves that the crisis facing cricket in Australia could never happen in rugby league.

How wrong they are - for the complacency that is behind cricket's on and off the field problems remains the greatest threat to rugby league's future as well.

And when you look around the rugby league scene today there are any number of signs of complacency creeping in.

Take the establishment of the independent commission. This time last year we were assured it was being fast tracked - and might even be in place for the 2010 season. Now we are told it is still being fast tracked - and will be in place for the 2011 season!

Seldom has been so much promised about the one thing, and promised so often, yet still not delivered! Today more "progress" has been reported...but that's all.

There is also far too much complacency about the growing influence of gambling on rugby league matches, and the growing dependence of clubs on gambling sponsorships.

Today the Sea Eagles have revealed a $1 million sponsorship deal with Centrebet. Good luck to them - but it just adds to the need for the game to get serious about managing the impact of betting on rugby league matches, and on sponsorship by betting agencies.

The inquiry into the extraordinary plunge on the Bulldogs v Cowboys game drags on and on.

The NRL should not be waiting for the inquiry to conclude before it does anything.

The 2011 season is effectively about three months away, and betting on the premiership is already under way.

The NRL needs to appoint an integrity commissioner - along the lines followed by the AFL- now, so that players, officials, and player managers know that betting activity and trends is being watched.

And there needs to be an education campaign among players, and officials, to warn of the consequences of attempted betting rorts in 2011.

Recently two well know jockeys, including one of the nation's best young riders in Blake Shinn, were disqualified for around 12 months for betting on horse races - even though they were not accused of attempted race fixing.

Let there be no doubt about it - the inquiries into the Bulldogs v Cowboys game are about an attempted "fix" not just about betting in general.

The other area of complacency concerns attendances. The NRL rightly points out that overall attendances are rising.

But that is only half the story.

Attendances at three or four club home games have risen considerably, thanks to better grounds, or an improved performance.

But attendances at home games of a majority of clubs - especially in Sydney - are a worry. They are either stagnant or on the decline.

And you have to question some of the "official attendance" figures - especially for one or two of the major stadiums!

Cricket has slipped so quickly, and dramatically, because officials became complacent, figuring that the 20-20 game would lift collapsing one day crowd figures, and an Ashes series win would bring the mob back to test cricket. Well attendances at the Brisbane and Adelaide tests have been OK, down on last time, but television viewing numbers have crashed.

And cricket, in all forms, basically became boring.

Rugby league is not in either space - fortunately.

But the game's administrators need to sit up and take notice of just how quickly and how comprehensively cricket has fallen...and why!