The “interventionist” approach the AFL Commission last week decided to take in dealing with off-field transgressions by players is being adopted by the NRL as well.
While the NRL off-field misbehaviour problems seem insignificant when compared with those of the West Coast Eagles, there is certainly no complacency — or cause for it — in the NRL. While the AFL has left the handling of off-field behaviour issues to the clubs, the NRL has been increasingly “monitoring” the handling of such issues by NRL clubs, and, on a couple of occasions, has imposed its own penalty.
The problem both codes face is inconsistency by clubs in dealing with bad behaviour. A number of NRL clubs — such as the Brisbane Broncos, North Queensland Cowboys and the Newcastle Knights — have taken a much tougher line in recent years while clubs such as the Bulldogs and the Panthers have a deserved reputation for being slack.
Last week, NRL CEO David Gallop could not hide his frustration at the serial bad boys in the headlines for all the wrong reasons — notably Gold Coast Titans Chris Walker. If the Titans decide to sack Walker this week — and that now seems unlikely given media coverage of his alcohol and other “problems” — then there is no doubt the NRL would not allow any other club to register him this year.
But if the AFL goes a step further this week and takes over responsibility for off-field behaviour it will actually move ahead of the NRL, though one suspects that won’t be the case for long. The NRL has already introduced a uniform penalty regime for drug offences — one that is tougher than the AFL’s “three strikes” policy.
The worry for the NRL is that while the off-season was one of the best in recent years when it came to off-field behaviour, the 2007 season — just six weeks old — has been nowhere near as incident-free. And again, the “incidents” have been confined to two or three clubs with bad behaviour records and a very poor record in dealing with offenders.
The AFL has unquestionably been forced, reluctantly, to seek to take control of dealing with off-field transgressions. The NRL will be watching very closely how the clubs, and the AFL Players Association, reacts in the days ahead. If the AFL plan is introduced, the NRL won’t be far behind. It’s already part of the way there.