The penalty imposed on the Penrith Panthers, NSW Blues and Kangaroos
half back, Craig Gower, represents a missed opportunity for rugby
league administrators.

It was an opportunity to impose an appropriate penalty that would send
an unambiguous message to other high profile players who bring disgrace
on the game, and on sport generally – not to mention themselves and
their families – by unacceptable off field behaviour.

Gower has effectively been fined $30,000 (with a further $70,000
suspended provided he behaves himself) and has lost the Panthers Club
captaincy. Thirty grand sounds a lot to most of us – but it probably
represents less than 10% of his annual income from rugby league.

And one assumes the 30 grand won’t be taxed as income so it’s actually
somewhat less. Whatever it is, it’s not the right penalty.

Gower has represented the game at the highest levels. He has worn the
green and gold of Australia in test matches no less than 15 times. He
has played for his State probably half a dozen times.

His off field behaviour record is appalling. He was sacked from the
Kangaroos in 1999 for an offence which, if an ordinary citizen was
involved, might have landed him in court. Then in 2004 he was fined a
paltry $1,000 for breaking the Origin camp curfew.

The right penalty for a player who has transgressed THREE times is not
a monetary penalty. It is to have his papers marked “never to play
representative football (test and origin) again”.

That is a real penalty. It has a monetary implication, sure, but it
shames him as well. And it sets an example other high profile players
will take note of.

I have mentioned this previously, but when the late Senator Ron
McAuliffe ran the game in Queensland a representative player was
reported to him for off field misbehaviour on a scale somewhat less
than Gower was accused of at the Jack Newton Charity Golf Classic.

The incident had not made the press, but, after a quiet but thorough
investigation, the Senator simply told the State, and National,
selectors the player was not to be chosen for representative matches.
And he wasn’t.

That is the penalty Gower should have received. It would have hurt him
much more than a fine, losing the club captaincy (and that can always
be restored) and being ordered to seek counselling. And it would have
had an ongoing effect – for the rest of his playing career.