The significant PR advantage the NRL has over the AFL when it comes to drug abuse by players is being rapidly undermined by a weak stance the biggest challenge facing rugby league – alcohol.

And it is increasingly apparent that players, and their managers, are running the agenda when it comes to “dealing” with repeat offenders.

As a result, both the NRL, and the majority of clubs have been made to look weak and ineffective. And, as the Sydney Sunday Telegraph put it yesterday, league “is drowning in an ocean of booze”.

The article detailed no less that four incidents in which NRL players were seen in public “as full as state school hat racks” in Sydney over a four day period last week. One of the game’s biggest names was seen lying in a gutter, almost unconscious, outside a Cronulla nightclub, while a big name Roosters player was seen staggering down George Street, Sydney, drunk, and abusing people lined up at a taxi rank.

But the best evidence to confirm just how much players have hijacked the agenda lies in the truly pathetic handling of the case of the Parramatta Eels player, Tim Smith, both by his club and by the NRL.

Less than two weeks ago, Smith was fined, and banned from drinking (alcohol) for a year after behaving disgracefully in public while drunk. Barely FIVE days later he was witnessed stumbling around a Parramatta hotel car park after a lengthy drinking session.

Friday’s Sydney press confidently predicted that the Eels would “tear up his contract” that afternoon. Wrong! He did not even front the club, as it assured the public he would.

Smith, after consulting his manager, instead flew to Queensland, and reportedly checked in to a clinic to be treated for alcohol abuse, and possibly other “issues” such as depression.

It has not taken long for the “Ben Cousins” defence to cross codes has it?

What happened was that as soon as news got out that Smith faced the axe (I am not sure he ever did) a parade of Eels players called on the club not to sack him, and offering him undying support to ensure he “recovers” and gets back on the field.

It is a tactic rapidly taking hold in the NRL – and it works a treat. It is “player power” at its very worst.

But it leaves the great majority of clubs, and the NRL, looking what in reality exactly what they are – weak and ineffective.