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At a time when we are all thinking happy thoughts, I do believe it is time to review a few poignant statistics. In a year when the National Rugby League (NRL) was embroiled indirectly in a rape case, saw a player retire due to cocaine abuse and involved in the middle of much publicity due to crowd violence, the organization still managed to set records in terms of overall attendance and TV ratings.
Is any publicity good publicity? I say no.
Were families turned off by off-field indiscretions in 2004? Most definitely.
Would league be much better off without it? For sure.
Fact is, most involved in the NRL have become immune to stories such as those seen in 2004. However, if we could somehow weed out these indiscretions, one can only imagine the brightness that is on offer for 2005 and beyond.
As a consequence, one must ask the question, why does the NRL appear to permanently have a gun aimed at their collective feet? As much as it pains me to say, many a horror novel could be written about our sport. One could even dare to ask, has ANY other sport in the world been through as much shenanigans in the past ten years as the NRL has? Once again, I say no. It reads like a who?s who of stupidity?How could we ever forget the following classic moments?
- Poo in the shoe in Dubbo. - Hoppa fingers in the bottom. - Casino Urination. - A two year war that ended up in the highest court in Australia. - A riot at a game and other crowd violence that would make Millwall (violent 1st division English soccer team) games seem tame. - Terry Lamb kicking a field goal when the Dogs were two behind (memoriesssss).
Reality is that the NRL is a magnet. A magnet for all that is uncouth and undesirable. To be frank and honest, as I look at the above, I cannot help but laugh. The game has quite simply provided an avenue for some of the stupidest and drunkest people in Australia to show what they?ve got. And to be fair, they sure provide the game with some interesting topics to discuss.
However, to address the question, I believe it has much to do with the working class history of the great game. Rugby League was a game always played by the lower classes, those who struggled to get by but lived for the footy game on the weekend. Many rugby league players come from the gutter. And whilst that is a testament to our game and how it is able to turn around so many seemingly ?lost souls?, it also attracts those who never seem to quite learn. Everyone is entitled to err; a faultless soul is a rare thing in these modern times. However, multiple errs is where the rugby league player excels.
Who could forget Hoppa; he has literally done it all. Julian O?Neill has shown the world his exhibitionist qualities with the classic poo in the shoe and the slash whilst on the lash in the casino. Others such as Mundine and Andrew Walker are/were walking headlines.
And whilst rugby league will continue to churn out the Sonny Bill?s and Benji?s, the code will also continue to produce an amazing amount of drama. Some good, some bad. For mine, it is a true reflection of the larrikin nature of the game. I completely understand the damage that these incidents cause the great game. To make light of some of the above indiscretions is quite simply, wrong. However, league seems to be trapped in an inescapable circle of woe. The so called larrikin nature of the game is a double edged sword (apologies for the clich?). It is both the thing that draws so many of us and makes us cringe at the same time.
Intense media scrutiny of the modern day game is also to blame for much of the controversy. Who knows what Dally Messenger got up to in 1911? Perhaps old Dally used to take a liking to running down George Street in the nuddy in his spare hours. We?ll never know.
The world was a different place in those times. Pure and simple.
So next time you see a controversy in our great game, don?t get too down about it. It?s nothing new. Regrettable, but nothing that we haven?t seen before.
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