I don’t consider myself to be a fool. Yet as a league fan, I can’t help but feel that’s what the NRL prefer me to be.
The game lures me in with the on-field performance yet abuses, ridicules and tortures me with its complete disregard for my opinions, intelligence, and knowledge of the game.
The changes in scheduling for season 2017 remind me just how little I matter to the NRL and how little they actually care, or feel guilty, about that fact.
Playing a 6pm game on a Friday night in Sydney serves a purpose, but it certainly isn’t getting people to the game. Blind Freddy knows it is driven by television, advertising and financial considerations and the role of the fan is not even an afterthought.
Blue collar workers who can’t duck away early whenever they like, the business person stuck in late meetings or appointments and the mum and dad who like to take the family to the home matches of their beloved team, all miss out.
Call me an old hippie, but the game is that of the people. You can throw commercial realities at me as firmly as you like and I’d be a fool not to acknowledge their existence, however it doesn’t make it right.
To steal a wonderful line from the 1986 film The Mission, where a brutal massacre of an indigenous people takes place and other nations seek power over their land, one of the conquerors states, ‘Thus is the world’. Only to be rebutted by a Jesuit Priest who replies, ‘No, thus we have made the world.’
The bogus and nonsensical logic sighted by the NRL as the reasons behind their scheduling changes, assumes our stupidity and ignorance and is more of an insult that the scheduling itself. We all know it, accept it as fait accompli and come back for more, as simple minded, gluttons for punishment.
Watching first grade referees bumble their way through matches, playing buddy-buddy with players; using first names and losing all respect and authority in the process, is another insult.
Referees’ performances will always be under scrutiny. It goes with the territory in terms of professional sport. However, the mistakes made, on and off-field, in recent seasons are laughable.
Friday’s penalty against Dylan Walker for dissent was a prime example of the pattern that has developed. Walker asked the referee to ‘have a look’ at a play the ball incident where the ball was clearly kicked from his hands.
He was promptly penalised for dissent and his captain informed that the penalty was for the manner in which Walker had addressed him. The whistleblower claimed Walker was ‘in my face,’ after Daly Cherry-Evans questioned the decision, with complete respect mind you, addressing the official as ‘sir’.
In fact, Walker never approached the referee, was never in his face, and spoke quite politely.
It was a complete knee-jerk reaction to an incident that the official had actually got wrong. This has been the default strategy of the officials in recent times.
Whether it be obstruction decisions, grounding or the patrolling of the ten metres, a blitz occurs, followed by a softening in approach soon after and an entirely new interpretation or focus occurs only weeks later.
Chances are, next week, we will hear a player speak to an official in a far more aggressive and disrespectful manner than that of Walker, indeed, it probably happened in the same game and no action was, or will be taken.
All the while, in the face of blatant inconsistency, players expose basic flaws in the refereeing ranks by failing to get even remotely near the pill with their foot in the play the ball, turning binding in scrums into a fiasco and wrestling crocodiles in every tackle in order to gain tenths of seconds in the battle for ruck speed.
The NRL’s reluctance to address these areas mystifies me.
The most controversial and probably important issue in the game right now is that of concussion and the NRL are taking me for a ride with their procrastination and slow witted approach, rather than adopting a firm position.
There are long term repercussions for the young men who choose to play this game and they deserve to be protected unreservedly.
At the moment, clubs are still skirting the issue by not erring with far more caution when it comes to head knocks.
The necessity to dish out fines to St George Illawarra, Newcastle and the Gold Coast is clear evidence of that and was something of a positive step, yet a strong stance from the NRL could eliminate this need altogether.
One must ask exactly what it will take before the NRL adopts a blanket and precautionary approach to the welfare of the players heads and the grey matter inside them.
Seeing players stumbling around or unable to rise to their feet is an obvious sign of impairment, how serious that impairment might be, is for someone with astute medical training to judge.
Not the public, nor the commentators or even worse, the player himself who still, and naturally, makes every effort to convince the training and medical staff who attend to him on the field, that he is fine and able to continue.
Without independent doctors and a firm and consistent policy in place, the NRL is thumbing its nose at the medical research, the families of the players and the legal responsibility they have as an employer.
Some of these players are superheroes to fans. I would like to meet my superheroes at a corporate function in the future and be able to converse with a healthy and happy man, who loves to embrace the fans who supported him though his rugby league career.
I would sacrifice the two points on any given weekend for his health; so he can cuddle his kids, speak fluently and be in a mentally good place as he starts to age.
It is sad that we are already hearing of ex-players suffering from the signs of head trauma and there will no doubt be many more to come. When I think about the hits I saw Geoff Toovey, Mario Fenech and Martin Lang take in their careers, it’s hard not to pray for their well-being.
The Adam Ritson case around the time of the Super League/ARL war should have sent a clear message. It appears to have been largely ignored and the modern consequences could be dire.
My love of the game won’t dwindle away and there will always be ups and down that elevate and deflate the moods of supporters and those interested in the game.
It would be nice if the NRL, whether it be through corporate mouthpieces, the referees boss or lip service paid to the issue of mental health in the modern player, would stop treating me like a fool and have the courage to tell me the truth.
Just don’t try to tell me at 5.30pm on a Friday night, I’ll be rushing home to try and catch the 6PM game.