Channel Nine rugby league commentator, Phil (Gus) Gould, never misses the opportunity to sink the slipper into News Limited and its influence in the National Rugby League.
Yesterday he used his Sunday Sun-Herald column to question the coverage News Ltd newspapers, notably the Daily Telegraph, has been giving to the ongoing saga – no, make that fiasco – between the Melbourne Storm and the Gold Coast Titans over the future of Storm player, Steve Turner.
The Melbourne Storm is owned by News Ltd, and News Ltd is a 50% owner of the NRL. Several other NRL clubs, such as the Brisbane Broncos and the North Queensland Cowboys, have substantial News ownership.
While it is hardly surprising Gould has referred to the link between the coverage of the issue and the News ownership of the Storm, on this occasion I think he has pulled the wrong rein.
News also owns the Gold Coast Bulletin which, unsurprisingly, is an aggressive supporter of the Titans over the Turner issue.
NRL chief David Gallop has also been unequivocal in his support of the Titans stance over the Turner contract dispute.
The Daily Telegraph, given the complex and substantial News ownership of the game of rugby league, actually takes a reasonably independent stance when it comes to controversial issues in the game, often to the discomfort of the NRL and its clubs.
There is one simple way News can fix perceptions about its newspapers being used to push agendas in rugby league that are to its own benefit.
It needs to divest itself of its ownership in NRL clubs as soon as possible.
I agree with Gould that the Turner saga is becoming a real embarrassment for the NRL. The Melbourne Storm is deliberately snubbing its nose at the game’s CEO, who happens to be a lawyer himself and would have taken legal advice before he supported the Titans stance.
A week or so ago, I thought the Titans needed to give ground. But the news that the club has already offered to release Turner from his contract in what amounts to a “swap” with two junior players currently signed up with the Storm really puts the pressure on the Storm.
But isn’t the solution a simple one? The NRL should send the issue to arbitration before the League’s respected Appeals Board Chairman, Sir Lawrence Street, and for all parties to accept his ruling.