The boys at the NRL Footy Show don’t like to take things too seriously
but last night they finally addressed the burning issues in rugby
league – sex and violence. And then there’s the small matter of Rupert’s loyal foot soldier, Malcolm
Noad, parachuting in to take control of the much-troubled Canterbury
Bulldogs. Slim Forward has it all covered…
Well, well, well- It’s amazing what a week in Rugby League will do.
Seven days ago Crikey remarked on how once again the Sydney Footy Show
(with Fattie, Sterlo, The Chief et al) had once again preferred blokey
panto to a bit of serious talking about the great ills afflicting Rugby
League.

Then a call from Big Dave Gyngell, an Eastern Suburbs heavy and unhappy
at the way the Great Game has been sinking. Dave, a frontrow forward,
rang the Footy Show Executive Producer last week and explained
that he wouldn’t mind seeing a forum on the Footy Show to comb through
these ills; as soon as possible. Like this Thursday night. And so it
came about.

But first, a rescue job by News Ltd and the National Rugby League at
the troubled Canterbury Rugby League Club. Malcolm Noad, a News
executive with stints at the top of Nationwide News, the key company in
the News Ltd stable in Sydney, overseeing the Tele. But Mal earned his
stripes as head of the aborted Super League dream of Rupe back in the
Mid 90’s.

He also had a short career at News Magazines and after drifting for a
while, ended up as a News ‘made’ guy on the National Rugby League
Board. He was chairman, overseeing the running of rugby league in
Australia and protecting Rupe’s investment, claimed by the Sun King at
a laughable $150 mil.

Now Mal’s been parachuted into the Bulldogs and has obviously been put
there to protect this investment. Nine News in Sydney, part of the
other big media partner in league, Kerry Packer’s PBL, gave a big play
to Noad’s appointment Thursday night. Noad finishes up at the NRL and
News Ltd at 5 pm Friday April 2.

News Ltd has also put league veteran, Frank Stanton, into the Melbourne
Storm as acting CEO after buying out John Ribot’s 25 per cent stake.
The Storm is the other NRL club where sexual assault charges are
hanging over players. Like the Noad appointment, there’s a strong dose
of issues management and firefighting by Holt Street chief, John
Hartigan.

At the same time NSW detectives investigating sexual assault
allegations made against some players for Canterbury, followed the
Bulldogs to Orange in the Central West of NSW, where they interviewed a
number of players for the second time this week. (The D’s are certainly
proving dogged!)

Obviously Noad has been put there to fill the void left by the
departure of Bulldog great Steve Mortimer, and to make sure there is
someone safe in the event the police investigation moves to charges in
the next few weeks.

The Daily Tele has been running hard on the Bulldogs story – featuring
a number of front page stories, the latest being graphic photos of
crowd violence at last weekend’s Sydney City Roosters-Bulldogs game.

With Noad, a loyal footsoldier in place at Belmore (home of the
Bulldogs) from April 13, what will the News Ltd papers in Sydney do
with the story now?

Perhaps the lead will come from the tenor of Thursday night’s Footy
Show Forum on Nine where the night’s promo was actually for ‘issues’
and not frocking up!

And it wasn’t bad. Sterlo (Peter Sterling a former Parramatta, NSW and
Australian player) asked some tough questions. He made the most telling
point that the Bulldogs had been associated with much of the crowd
violence in Rugby League over the past five years. In doing so he cut
off a point made by another panel member who was trying to claim that
the violence came from people interested only in violence.

It would have been great if he or someone else on the panel went on to
simply link the points that two forms of violence have been associated
strongly with the Canterbury side in recent years. Crowd brawling and
assaults, and sexual assault allegations brought by at least two women.

The Footy Show had a small interview with Catherine Lumby, a Sydney Uni
Professor brought into help the League on gender issues and
discimination against women. She made a couple of useful points about
leadership and changing the League culture to make it more appealing to
women.

Even the head boof, Paul Vautin (a former Manly, Queensland and
Australian player) was restrained and seemed to understand some of the
issues. But he sometimes gives the impression that these are not first
order issues, which is a pity.

Sterling also asked questions of Noad about the sexual assault charges,
but Noad, being new to the job, found it hard to answer from a lack of
knowledge rather than avoiding this issue.

Around 20 minutes in one long segment was devoted to the Bulldogs’
questions of the sexual assault charges and the crowd violence and then
it was onto to two other issues, 14 Brisbane players on the field in a
Sunday game and the injury to Andrew Johns’ knee (he is the best league
player around). Both important but nowhere near as vital as the issues
confronting the league from the Bulldogs.

Perhaps the most telling point came from NSW Police Assistant
Commissioner, Bob Waits, who said that every time the Canterbury team
plays in a featured match (Friday nights) the police roster on more
officers because of the history of violence associated with the
Canterbury side.

A bit light on in places – no real examination of the issues of too
much money, too much alcohol, too much time that confront League
players (and AFL players ) especially younger players. There were brief
references to welfare programs, but a bit more was needed to explain
just what was being done. Something that television lends itself to as
the rest of the Footy Show revealed with a reversion to panto about
10.10 pm, which pleased the studio audience no end..

Peter Fray

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