Rugby league's biggest threat

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Some say the biggest threat to the National Rugby League (NRL) comes from the resurgent A-League or the ever-present AFL.

But I’d argue that increasingly, the NRL’s biggest threat is coming from within.

Rugby league was thrown into chaos last week when details of an incident involving the South Sydney Rabbitohs at a pre-season camp in Arizona were made public.

While the behaviour of Luke Burgess and John Sutton was disappointing, it was the way the situation was handled by the NRL that has become this story’s key talking point.

The NRL embarrassingly reopened its investigation last week because, to put it bluntly, the so-called Integrity Unit didn’t do its job.

Journalists digging into the story quickly discovered there was more to it than the picture being painted by South Sydney.

The information wasn’t hard to find, and you would think the NRL’s Integrity Unit should have the knowledge and ability to investigate incidents in great detail.

Perhaps it needs people with a journalistic background on the panel.

It was an embarrassing situation for the NRL and in particular CEO Dave Smith and Chief Operating Officer Suzanne Young, who has been surprisingly quiet during this whole affair.

That’s despite saying back in November that she had been successful in business because of skills such as “discipline, courage, team work, inspiring leadership and good communication”.

Talking of communication issues, the latest issue bubbling away at the NRL is one over the issuing of weekend team lists.

Traditionally released on a Tuesday, team line-ups will now be issued on a Wednesday.

This is a major issue for Big League magazine, often referred to as the game’s bible. They confirmed to me via Twitter on Monday that there was no guarantee they’d be able to print team lists this season because of the change to Wednesdays.

Their print and distribution deadlines are the key issue.

The NRL will effectively kill off a 95 year tradition of the match day program if it does go ahead with changing the team lists to Wednesday.

Such a change would affect publications such as ours, too, but the only information available on all of this comes from the NRL rumour mill.

Despite the season being just weeks away and a major structural change being made, the NRL hasn’t told the wider media about the change.

An email from me to the NRL’s media department last week seeking some clarification has not received a reply or any acknowledgement.

Then there’s the issue of Shane Richardson’s appointment to a key job at the NRL. He was CEO of the Rabbitohs when the Arizona incident took place and has been accused in some corners of a cover-up.

How the NRL handles Richardson and his appointment in the coming weeks will speak volumes about the code’s current administration and the ever-silent ARL Commission.

Meanwhile, Rebecca Wilson from the Daily Telegraph on Saturday revealed that the sacking of marketing man Paul Kind is not quite how it has been portrayed by the NRL.

The bottom line here is that the NRL remains too protective, too reactionary and seems to hang on to the archaic belief that you can keep a secret in rugby league. You can’t.

From the outside looking in, it would appear the NRL is one step behind at every turn.

It reacts to incidents because of media coverage, rather than a real set of guidelines that determine punishments and policies.

League fans won’t desert the game because of soccer or the AFL. But maybe one day, they’ll get fed up with how the game we all love is being run.

And that should be a major concern to all officials charged with managing the game.

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