If the rumours and speculation are true, Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) Chairman John Grant would have been sitting in his home office just before midnight last night, eagerly waiting to see how the mainstream Sydney newspapers covered yesterday’s epic day in rugby league.
Reports suggest that Mr Grant would email ARLC CEO David Gallop at all hours, asking how he planned to respond to various issues being presented in the papers, particularly The Daily Telegraph, which is essentially the rugby league bible in Sydney.
Ironic, then, that one of the reasons Mr Gallop was not deemed suitable to stay in his role was that he was too reactive.
Yesterday’s “mutual” decision that saw Mr Gallop step away from the CEO role after a decade in charge has dramatic impacts on rugby league, sees the Commission draw a massive line in the sand an ends a roller coaster era for the code.
Mr Gallop was the man who guided the code through the Bulldogs Coffs Harbour scandal, two major salary cap scandals impacting Canterbury and Melbourne and the Brett Stewart saga.
He also oversaw the NRL’s remarkable rise in popularity, a boost that will see it soon clinch a remarkable television rights deal.
The contrast between the negatives and positives of Mr Gallop’s tenure is quite amazing – some of the biggest crisis situations the game has ever faced, combined with some of its greatest moments.
Yesterday, at a media conference in Sydney, Mr Gallop could not name a lone highlight from his decade-long tenure, though named launching the All Stars concept as something he’ll fondly remember.
Mr Gallop didn’t shed a tear. That said, he was obviously emotional. He was walking away from the game he’d helped foster and grow for 10 years. But he wasn’t going to give anyone the satisfaction of seeing him cry.
“It’s been a privilege for me to lead the game over the last 10 years and see the game’s resurgence,” Mr Gallop said yesterday.
“I love the game and wish it well. Given there’s never a good time to give effect to a decision such as this, the Commission and I have both determined it’s best for me to depart immediately.
“I would like to thank the clubs, the players, my staff and the fans of the game. It has been an exhilarating and challenging period, but no one can do this job forever.”
Mr Grant also fronted a media conference yesterday and in an earlier statement paid tribute to the efforts of Gallop.
“This agreement should in no way detract from the job David has done over the last decade. He has proven his skills as an effective administrator despite having one of the toughest jobs in sports management and he can be justifiably proud of his achievements and the legacy he leaves,” Mr Grant said.
“His leadership and dedication through often challenging times has been a contributor to the commercial success of the NRL competition and the popularity Rugby League enjoys today.
“On behalf of the ARL Commission and the Rugby League community I thank him for the countless hours he has devoted to promoting and improving Rugby League in Australia.”
The reaction on talkback radio yesterday was mixed. But shock was a key theme.
Shocked too, was the NSW Sports Minister, Graham Annesley.
Mr Annesley was Mr Gallop’s right hand man at the NRL for many years.
“Today’s announcement that David Gallop has stepped down from his role as Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Rugby League sees the end of an era in Rugby League,” Mr Annesley said.
“During his time at the helm David successfully reunited the game in the aftermath of the Super League war, leading to outstanding year on year growth across all performance measures.
“The fact that the game is now poised to negotiate a record breaking broadcasting deal which will ensure the code’s future for decades to come, is in no small way a direct result of David’s indisputable contribution.
“I had the great pleasure of working with David in Rugby League for well over a decade, and he is without question one of the most genuine, professional and trustworthy people you would ever meet. I am very proud to call him a friend.
“David leaves the game of rugby league in better shape than at any other time in its history. His focus, tenacity and honesty are attributes which will stand him in good stead throughout the remainder of his career.
“Like all of us there comes a time when new challenges arise and I have no doubt David’s future will lead him to many more triumphs in the years ahead.”
Tributes, too, from Premier Barry O’Farrell.
“Over his decade in the top job, David has guided the National Rugby League with great energy and skill, including his crowning achievement of the successful formation of the independent commission,” Mr O’Farrell said.
“I often joke it’s the only job more difficult than being Premier of NSW – and in many respects that’s true because this State is so passionate about its league.
“David sought to uphold high standards of behaviour by NRL players, as well as instil a great professionalism in its administration. He can be proud of his achievements at the NRL. “As a keen Wests Tigers fan, I thank David for his contribution to the sport and wish him well for the future.”
One man who would have smiled when he heard the news of Mr Gallop’s departure is Panthers boss Phil Gould. The pair have rarely seen eye to eye on the game’s biggest issues, and Mr Gould is known to be frustrated over the perceived lack of support the NRL has thrown at the Panthers in their battle with the AFL.
Gould has told the Telegraph today that he “respects” the decision.
“They have been looking at what structure is best for the game going forward and whether the individuals currently in senior roles within the ARLC are the right ones to lead it into the future,” he said.
But ironically, Gould may face a greater problem as a result of Mr Gallop’s departure.
A source told the Weekender in March that Warren Wilson, who has taken over as CEO of the Panthers Leagues Club and was a boss at Tabcorp, was in the sights of the commission as a potential leader.
Those rumours will now only grow.
Wilson is excited about the major developments happening at Panthers that will see it return to being a major powerhouse, but there’s no doubt that he’d be interested if the ARLC came knocking on his door.
Whatever the case now, David Gallop is no longer the face of rugby league. An era has ended. A new one will begin. But in the interim, John Grant becomes the face of the code.
“If you look at the way the game and the NRL was run over 10 years, you have to say it was a reactive business,” Grant said yesterday.
”I think the business today and the business that has been in the last 10 years is very different to the business that is going to be going forward.”
Whatever the business model may be going forward, it seems odd that Mr Gallop’s departure would be announced mid-way through a season, with a massive State of Origin game just a week away.
Rugby league has a remarkable habit of damaging and attacking itself at the wrong time. Yesterday, even with a new commission in charge, it did it again.