Rugby League and player contracts: community standards v player rights again!

In case you missed it, Daly Cherry-Evans of the Manly Sea Eagles announced yesterday evening after his team’s round one loss to the Parramatta Eels that he has signed a lengthy contract to play with the Gold Coast Titans in 2016.  

That’s right: the best player on a team in the NRL who is contracted to play for them for the whole of 2015 has already signed a contract to play in 2016 and beyond with a direct competitor.  

I have long been an opponent of the contracting system in the NRL.  It is just, for want of a better term, stupid to grant players an absolute right to negotiate a contract any time they want.  It is not in the interests of the code or the club for which the player is currently contracted too. 

What I struggle with most here is the notion that a player (Cherry-Evans is but one) will spend the whole season playing for another team whilst a direct oppontent awaits his services in 12 months time.  When I think about the business I am in and what would happen in the same scenario I am just gobsmacked.  I am a director of a large accounting firm.  If I was to resign on Monday to go and do exactly the same job with a direct competitor I know that my employer and most like mine would simply pay out my notice period and show me the door.  The other option would be that I am given no work to do and left to look out a window for my notice period. 

There is no neferious reason for this, rather simply why would my employer keep me on the tools when I am going to a direct competitor at some point in time in the near future? 

This is the same scenario as with any rugby league player who signs a contract like Cherry-Evans has isn’t it? When Anthony Milford did the same thing to the Canberra Raiders last year I suggested that he should either be released immediately from his contract OR sent back to the lower grades to mark out his time.  

I am at a loss to understand, yet again, why a rugby league player has any heightened rights than a normal punter in the street when it comes employment conditions?  Is there anyone out there in the community who has signed a contract with a competitor in the same industry and the same market to commence in 12 months time and kept their job?  Of course there isn’t because in the “real” world that notion is just ridiculous! 

At the moment players seem to have the NRL and clubs over a barrel when it comes to negotiating contracts.  I say kudos to them for having good negotiators and lawyers.  Equally, I am left to wonder again when some form of status quo between the rights of the player and the interests of the code will be reached.  If such a status quo is not reached fans are going to (continue to in my view) vote with their wallets and stop coming to games. 

Elite sportsmen in Australia and community standards: will the two ever meet?

Yesterday evening saw what would appear to be the end of the Kurtley Beale texting and plane argument scandal.  For those who missed it Beale was charged with two serious breaches of the ARU Code of Conduct related to the sending of two offensive whatsapp messages about a female staffer of the Australian Rugby Union and was found guilty of one breach and not guilty of the other.  Beale was fined $45,000 and had his playing rights reinstated with immediate effect.

The whatsapp messages sent, based on what has been published in the media, were abhorrent.  As a male, indeed as a human being, there is no other way to feel about them.  Sent in jest or not, there can be no cogent excuse for sending them.

Starting from that very low benchmark; viz, that there can be no cogent reason for having sent the message that Beale was proved to be sent, what has galled me most about the “Beale Imbroglio” is the Australian Rugby Union’s seemingly complete divorce from the reality of community standards or even the standards of a corporate employee.

The fact is that if I had have sent a message like that which Beale sent about a fellow employee of the organisation that employs him:

  • I would not have been stood down with pay;
  • nor would I have been given the opportunity to front an independent tribunal to plead my case (with legal representation);
  • nor would I have received broad public support, in defiance of my employer, from the senior people within my employer; and

I work for one of the largest professional services firms in the world; an organisation much larger and much more profitable than the ARU.   Whilst I am not an owner of said business, I sit in a moderately senior position and there is no way that if I had have conducted myself in the way Beale has that I would still have a job.  I have an employment contract and work for an employer that takes issues of sexual harassment / vilification very seriously and I would have had that employment contract terminated for cause if I had have sent the proven text message that Beale sent.


The foregoing of course ignores all of the prior conduct of Beale in the last 18 months including:

  • Punching the captain of his domestic team whilst on tour in South Africa and being sent home.
  • Being photographed in a Hungry Jacks restaurant at 3am on the day before a test match against the British and Irish Lions in significant breach of team rules (for which he was not penalised).
  • Arguing on a long haul flight with various management staff of the Wallabies over the hefty issue of being told to put another t-shirt, again as a result of Beale breaching team rules.

With that sort of “rap sheet” surely Beale must have been on his final warning?  Again, if Beale worked for any employer in the community other than a sporting team he would have received at least two warnings for this conduct and would have been on a “final warning”.

I wrote this when Beale was last in trouble and my comments there hold true.  This latest saga again does nothing other than prove that the Australian Rugby Union is significantly out of touch with the standards of the community.  Just because Beale, or any other player, is good at Rugby Union should not elevate him to a position above that of an ordinary member of the community should it?

In the title to this post I have gone further than just mentioned the ARU and included elite sportmen as a whole (in Australia) in this post.  That is because of the conduct of Paul Gallen, New South Wales Rugby League captain, poster boy for the NRL and guilty drug cheat.  Earlier this week, after the sacking of Cronulla Sharks CEO Steve Noyce, Gallen, from his holiday in Hawaii, tweeted a highly offensive tweet referring to the leaders of the National Rugby League by reference to a descriptive word that society considers to be in the worst category of slurs.

Gallen has apologised, albeit with one of the most strained apologies I have ever seen and deleted the tweet, and the NRL has announced it will be investigating however, based on past outcomes of NRL investigations the outcome of that investigation will inevitably be a fine.

This again shows just how outside of community standards the sporting codes in this country are: I have 1100 twitter followers and if I posted a tweet to my account calling the leaders of my employer the term used by Gallen what would be the result? You guessed it: I would be out of a job, again for cause and again with immediacy.

At some point the leaders of the sporting codes in Australia must take notice of the standards of the community in dealing with their employees.  The codes have advanced exponentially in the two decades when it comes to professionalism and quantum of money earned in the game.  Unfortunately the manner in which players are disciplined remains back in the days when Rugby Union was an amateur game and Rugby League was split on border lines.

The Beale saga, more so than that of Gallen, is replete with victims.  Di Patston has been vilified in the press, lost her job and is in treatment.  Ewen McKenzie felt compelled to resign.  There are also a whole tranche of victims who are presently unrecognised: the future potential generation of rugby fans who will not become fans of the game because their fathers, mothers, uncles, grandfathers (etc), like me, are so now disaffected with the game that they will not deign to take them to games any more.  I will be not going to games in 2015 and that means my nephews will also not be going which makes them victims too.

Players of professional sports are employees just the rest of us: surely at some point they have been treated that way because presently they are not and it is damaging the brand of the game.  It is that simple!

As the NRL thinks about the draft, remember 1991: is the risk worth the reward?

The CEO of the NRL has announced today his intention to introduce a player draft in the hope of “equalization” of the competition.  The lawyer in me is scratching his head: the NRL have been here before and had a draft process thrown out by the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia.  This happened in 1991 and to me not much has changed.

For those who missed it: in Adamson v New South Wales Rugby League Ltd (1991) 31 FCR 242 it was held that the then NSWRL internal draft system was contrary to the common law position that parties should be free to trade as they wish.  As Justice Willcox put it in his judgment:

“How, in a free society, can anyone justify a regime which requires a player to submit … intensely personal decisions to determination by others?”

Of course I am aware that the AFL has a player draft and it plays under the same laws as those to which the NRL are bound.  It must be noted that in the AFL there is a collective bargaining agreement that binds the players which has been agreed between the AFL and the AFL Players Association which allows for the draft.  Effectively: the players have contracted out of their right to trade freely.  to be frank: on my reading of the law, if an AFL player was to challenge the draft in Court I would be astonished if it was not set aside.

Section 45 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 also deals with contracts, arrangements and understandings that restrict dealings or affect competition.  Absent the agreement of all parties involved to NOT trigger a claim under this provision I fail to see how a draft, which is effectively an arrangement that restrains a player from exercising his own choice as to whom he wishes to play for, does not fall foul of that provision.

A draft, to me, is contrary to the law of the land.  Given than the agreement of the stakeholder to amend the collective Bargaining Agreement and, in essence, agree not to challenge the draft would be necessary for the draft to be effective there would need to be very very good reasons for bring a draft in.

equalization of the competition is the reason given however could it ever be said that a draft program does definitely and measurably bring an equalization to a competition in which the draft is in place?

Consider this: the NFL, NBA and MLB all have draft programs.  Each of these competitions have been, and continue to be, dominated by the teams with the biggest wallet to spend on players. If the drafts in those competitions, which have been around for a very long, truly equalised the competition then, for example, there would not be 8 teams (of 30) in the MLB that have never won a World Series whilst one team, the New York Yankees, have won 40.  Similarly, in the NBA we have seen the Miami Heat buy a team to win and dominate the competition.  In the NFL: when was the last time a surprise team made the playoff?  There are 32 teams in the competition and yet the same teams every year seem to make the finals.

There is so much that can happen from the time a player is first contract until the time said player makes it to the top grade.  A draft of junior players will do nothing to change the fact in the NRL that clubs can negotiate with players at any time during the season and players can seemingly break contracts at will.  There is much to be fixed to assist in equalising the NRL competition but to me instituting a draft is not one of them.  Legally it is the wrong move and it will not, on the evidence of the other codes that have a draft, change the fact that some teams will dominate whilst others will struggle.

All of this, to me, makes it one big waste of money to even be considering this process: money that could be better spent on the development of the game elsewhere.

Canberra Raiders: We deserve the wooden spoon and heads must roll

I have written previously this year about the position of Ricky Stuart at the Canberra Raiders. I am not going to rehash all of that: the fact is that I do not believe Ricky Stuart is the right man to be coaching Canberra and I will never be convinced otherwise. He is a team destroyer rather than a team builder and until he is no longer in charge of the team I expect no success for the green machine.

That rant about the coach had, I have to say that I had, until Sunday’s game, had hope that from the player group the Raiders possess at the moment the team could at least be competitive this season and avoid the dreaded wooden spoon having never been a recipient of that “prize” in 33 years in the competition.

Nothing I saw though in another Raider’s capitulation, this time against the Warriors, has done anything to suggest any other conclusion than that the Raiders really do not deserve any other result than to receive the wooden spoon. Unlike the Sharks, who have had significant disruption this year through the drugs saga, there is no real cogent excuse that can be made for just how bad the Raiders are in 2014.

Change is needed at the Raiders. That is plain. Ricky Stuart going is just the tip of the iceberg though. On the management side of the business Don Furner has presided over calamitous and embarrassing season in which the results on the field have been coupled with an inability to attract players to the club. He must be replaced.

On the player side, it is hard to see ornaments to the club come to the end of their careers but it is time for some such players including Campese and Tilse to be moved along or quietly retired. When those players go then the Raiders must trust in the U20s coming through rather than seek to replace like with like as Furner has done in previous years.

I have never supported a team other the Canberra Raiders and I never will. It hurts me to see my proud club at such a low ebb. Regardless of the end result of this season changes just have to be made in Canberra. If you need another reason for this, and I will leave this post at this, then have a look at the plethora of empty seats in the ground on Sunday. The fans are not coming to the games and for the fans to come back change must be made. It is the simple.

Postscript: I originally wrote this blog on Sunday afternoon after the Raiders terrible performance against the Warriors. My original draft was much more forceful in my condemnation: this is the calmer draft!

State of Origin 2014: Some Reflections

The battle between Queensland and New South Wales for rugby league supremacy has ended and for the first time in the life of my nine year old nephew the trophy is returning south of the Tweed.

Here are some reflections on New South Wales first series win in, for some, living memory.

1. The better team won

I know that this will be hard to admit for some Queensland fans however, the second half of game 3 aside, New South Wales were the better team in this series.  Defensively they had a plan to shut down Queensland and it worked to perfection.  Congratulations to New South Wales on your win.

2. There is no better actor in the game than Greg Bird

The winner of the 2014 Gold Logie ... Greg Bird

The winner of the 2014 Gold Logie … Greg Bird

I have watched a lot of sport in my time but can anyone genuinely argue that the best actor in the game is not Greg Bird? Seemingly, according to Bird, he is never in the wrong and ought never be penalised EVER.  Constantly blameless, in his own eyes, and constantly informing the referee that he is blameless either he is the most deluded person in the world or a magnificent actor.  All of that has not even touched on his excellent performance to milk a penalty after tackling Nate Myles last night.

3. Corey Parker: giving hope to silver-haired blokes everywhere

I can not recall a better performance by a forward in a Queensland jumper than that of Corey Parker last night.  He ran hard all night, tackled everything and threw more offloads than I think he has all season.  This was just a great performance and gives hope to all blokes getting on in years and searching for a career renaissance.

4. Refereeing: well it was consistent … consistently questionable

I am not an advocate of the abuse of referees.  Indeed, I remain one of the few, it would seem, believers in the maxim that the umpire / referee is always right.  That said, it has to be said that this was a series in which the refereeing reached new heights for, at the very least, questionable, decision-making.  It effected both teams and did not effect the result of the series but bad refereeing only adds to the niggle between the teams which is not good for the game.

5. Channel 9 loves a NSW win

Was I alone in wondering why we, as viewers, were put through a one on one interview between Brad Fittler and Laurie Daley in celebration of New South Wales series win last night? After all New South Wales has only won one series in the last nine haven’t they? If fans of the game ever needed a further guide to the bias inherent in Channel 9’s telecast of State of Origin football they had it last night.  They just love it when NSW wins: not sure why I am surprised really.

State of Origin is one the best sporting contests in Australian sport.  This wasn’t a series that reached great heights frankly, in part due to the ongoing niggle between the combatants and the defensive manner of NSW’s game plan (for which they are to be applauded).

Bring on 2015!

State of Origin 2014, Game 1: 5 talking points

Game 1 of State of Origin 2014 was won and lost last night at Lang Park.  It was an exciting game of rugby league and, as hard as it is for me to say it, the best side won.  Here are my talking points from Game 1:

1. No Fighting: yep … the new laws did take away from the contest

After Paul Gallen’s thug punch in the same game last year the NRL / ARL introduced laws that banned punching with the punishment being an immediate sin binning.  There were a poultice of moments in last nights game that would have, ordinarily, lead to an all in brawl.  It did not happen and I for one thought the game was lacking for it.

2. Cooper Cronk: more important to Queensland than Jonathan Thurston

Cooper Cronk broke his arm in the 9th minute and after that Queensland looked bereft of ideas in attack.  Cherry-Evans was solid but looked behind the pace and as though he had not run in the top team much during practice.  Cronk’s kicking game was missed as was his calmness in difficult situations.

3. The Brent Tate tackle: Josh Reynolds must be suspended

There is no way to sugar coat it: Reynolds has to be suspended.  The usual discount for State of Origin indescretions must not apply to this tackle, particularly if the NRL / ARL are serioius about rubbing out this type of tackle.

4. Aidan Guerra must start game 2

The Queensland back row was bested somewhat easily by their counterparts.  The back rower from Queensland who was best on the night game of the bench in the form of Aidan Guerra.  He was forceful in defence and ran strongly in attack.  With Sam Thaiday also likely to return the Queensland back row only improves with Guerra’s inclusion in the run on.

5. Can Paul Gallen just shut up?

I wrote last year about the lamenteous conduct of Paul Gallen in the first State of Origin ( ).  Nothing has changed: every decision of the referees last night that were slightly against the men in blue and even neutral decisions were met with Paul Gallen getting the face of the men making the decisions.  It is neither a good look nor is it good for the game.  Just shut up Paul!!!

Game 2 is in three weeks time and Queensland will win.  Enough said.