The Brisbane Broncos Rugby League Club has significantly lifted the cross bar when it comes to dealing with off-field misbehaviour by players – and should seriously embarrass a number of NRL and AFL clubs in the process.

Yesterday the Broncos management tore up the contracts of two young, and very promising, players, Ian Lacey and John Te Rio, after the former appeared in court on a serious assault charge with the latter facing the same when he returns from New Zealand.

The way the Broncos have handled the issue stands in sharp contrast to the approach of a number of NRL clubs, notably the Sydney Bulldogs, and AFL clubs, notably the West Coast Eagles. And it is an approach that puts pressure on the National Rugby League to back its tough stance.

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The Broncos have not waited until the court processes are concluded – that could take a year or more. The club has conducted its own investigations, and relied on its own Code of Conduct – which it requires all players to sign up to – to sack the players.

The Broncos CEO, Bruno Cullen, who sacked two first grade players last year for off-field misbehaviour, made it clear yesterday the fact that the players were out drinking at 4.30am in the morning – after attending the club’s presentation night – was a factor in the decision to sack them immediately.

Other clubs delay taking action against players who are accused or charged by the police until court proceedings are concluded. Some are even allowed to continue playing even when they are before the courts on serious charges. But the Code of Conduct allows the Broncos to conduct its own inquiries, and take immediate action if warranted.

All NRL and AFL clubs should be talking to the Broncos about their Code of Conduct – and asking themselves why they should not emulate it. The ball is now very much in the National Rugby League’s corner. And it needs to respond much more resolutely than it has in the past.

The absolute minimum should be to refuse to register the players with any other NRL club until court proceedings are concluded. If they are found guilty then registration must be out of the question. And the NRL needs to ensure the ARL shows some uncharacteristic gumption and demand that the International Rugby League take the same tough stance.

If, as occurred with the two Broncos players sacked in 2006, and the Cowboys player sacked for drug use in the same year, the players can simply sign with another club then the tough stance of the Broncos CEO and Team Manager, Andrew Gee, will be sabotaged.

The feedback on radio in Brisbane after the Broncos sacked the players yesterday was overwhelmingly positive. While the television, radio and newspaper coverage gives the game, and the club, headlines that could be done without, the Broncos have taken a very tough stance – one that many will regard as a benchmark for the future of all clubs in the NRL.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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