This week had been shaping up as a stellar one for the National Rugby League – a very popular winner of the Dally M Player of the Year, a new record attendance for a semi final match, and the prospect of record television ratings with all four semi-finals being shown live on free-to-air television.
The story of Dally M Player of the Year, the Melbourne Storm’s Cameron Smith, is one of those genuine good news stories. The son of a working class family from the satellite city of Logan outside Brisbane, Smith has an absolutely unblemished record off the field, and is regarded as a tough, no-nonsense but fair competitor on it.
Meanwhile, Saturday night’s semi-final between the Broncos and the St George Illawarra Dragons looks like being a 52,000 sell out – breaking the semi final record set when the Dragons met the Sharks in 1999.
But, once again, allegations of players behaving badly – this time allegedly behaving disgustingly and criminally – threaten to turn a week of triumph into a PR nightmare for the code.
All of the above will count for much less if the allegations that West Tigers players were involved in the sexual assault of a woman on Monday morning are in any way substantiated.
It needs to be stressed that they are allegations, and no more than allegations. But even if they go no further, the image of rugby league will be tarnished.
When you look at the “ingredients” in this latest incident there is a very familiar –depressingly familiar – story. “Mad Monday” (the day after the end of the season for a team), a Kings Cross bar, and footballers on the booze (and maybe worse). All ending with a young woman making serious allegations to the police.
If the most serious allegations are in any way sustained, then the law will take its course.
But the NRL must continue its stance on such issues regardless. The League must demand that the Wests Tigers Club have a serious look at the playing careers of those involved. The NRL and some clubs have taken a tough line on the naming of players behaving badly, and dealing very firmly when allegations are confirmed.
And they deserve to be penalised, whatever the outcome of the police inquiries, for holding their “Mad Monday” or “Mad Sunday Night” celebrations anywhere near King’s Cross!