Off the Wall

Roy Masters is the most thoughtful writer on rugby league today.

He has a long and illustrious history in the game - as a coach and writer. He coached at Wests and St George, taking the Dragons to the 1985 grand final, losing out to the Bulldogs 7-6. That's as close as it gets. He was Dally M coach of the year in 1985. He also served for many years on the the Australian Sports Commission.

I have briefly outlined his distinguished record because it affirms why we should take very seriously his column in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald, that included an interview with the head of the Australian Crime Commission.

In the article Roy Masters canvasses the "worst case" scenarios the game may well have to face smack bang in the middle of the 2013 season. There are also on the record comments from the NRL CEO.

I have been critical of the NRL,and the new CEO, over their response to the drugs and betting issues being ruthlessly by the Crime Commission and ASADA. But I gain some assurance from the fact that the NRL is taking a realistic approach to what may lie ahead for the game - and increasingly looks like descending on the game in a matter of weeks.

There are two fundamental issues.

The first concerns what would happen if one or more teams became effectively unviable during the season - as a result of the mass suspension of first grade players under the ASADA and WADA rules. That has to be regarded as a real possibility. If half a dozen or more players from one team were forced to serve immediate six month or two year suspensions then the team would probably be totally uncompetitive.

Suspending the whole team from the 2013 premiership is not an option. The NRL has contractual obligations to Nine and Fox that essentially require it to run a sixteen team competition. That is why the option of suspending the Storm from the premiership was ruled out when the salary cap rort was exposed.

The NRL, according to Roy Masters,  is clearly looking at an internal, mid-season draft. That would happen if one, or more, teams became unviable because of multiple suspensions. An internal draft would almost certainly require unaffected clubs to give up players to the affected club or clubs. That would require the full co-operation of all clubs, but it really does present absolute nightmare scenarios.

Nightmare, but increasingly likely. The other issue is one we have to hope and pray does not eventuate - and that is if a team scheduled to play in the grand final suddenly had a bunch of players suspended by ASADA, or even as a result of action by the Crime Commission. The intervention by the ACC and ASADA has been wholly unhelpful.

It has caused enormous PR damage to the Sharks, and the game, even though no player, or official, has been charged. And it is clearly starting to impact on the Sea Eagles.

But, judging by the comments of the ACC Chief in the interview, the whole issue is not a fishing expedition. Sadly, far from it! Some may scoff at the NRL looking at extreme and worst case scenarios.

In truth, it has no other option. And that is the really frightening part!