Youth comp aims to clean up act

However the achievements won't necessarily be judged purely on how many players progress from the new national youth competition into first grade in coming seasons.

No, it will be based on what sort of people those players become by the time they reach the NRL.

It is hardly a bold statement to say that what has gone on away from the playing field in recent months has not been good for the image of the game.

Drunken antics, pub fights, street assaults, drive-by shootings and intra-club back-stabbings, like that at the Bulldogs, have all led the headlines since the 2007 season came to a close.

And let's face it, those are hardly the types of things that are going to inspire parents to get their children involved in rugby league.

Sure, it's only a small portion of players involved in these hijinx, probably 5 per cent of the roughly 500 NRL-registered players, but it's been enough to ruin it for everyone.

It's been enough to have rugby league's players labelled `problems', which of course is unfair on the majority, who are decent law-abiding citizens.

But unlike Joe Citizen, these players are superstars and their every move is watched and scrutinised, and any slip-up is going to end up on the front page.

And, if they don't already, then they need to realise that.

Many people blame the seemingly increasing number of off-field dramas on players simply coming too far, too fast and earning too much money in the process.

In some cases they have probably got a point.

Players as young as 18 are breaking into first grade, having never worked in a `real job', finding they have plenty of free time and disposable income, which inevitably leads to trouble

So that is where the success and failure of the NRL's youth competition comes into the equation.

Organisers of the new nation-wide under-20s league have made it clear that the players' on-field development is just as important as their off-field growth as individuals.

There will be no cruisy `rugby league only' rise to the top for even the biggest emerging star in this new generation of players.

These guys will be like a blast from the past, going back to a time before the game went fully professional. All players are required to combine their early morning and evening training schedule with work or study.

If they don't do those things then they don't play, it's as simple as that.

That ensures a number of things, all positive, with one being that once their football career is over they have something to fall back on.

But another is that it takes them outside of the `bubble' existence that some players can get caught up in.

The clubs and the NRL also conduct regular educational clinics where players are taught how to handle their finances, respect women and basically how to integrate with the community.

It will be hard slog for the players who join the competition, which kicked off last night, but the pay-off seems as if it will be worth it.

Only time will tell if it has been a success, probably about five years, but the installation of the league shows the NRL is serious about limiting negative headlines.

And while it would be impossible to eliminate the dramas completely, any reduction would have to be good for the game.