Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Halftime Spray #12 (2014)

Last week, the Cronulla Sharks captain Paul Gallen revealed that the pressures and stresses of captaining his side engulfed by the ASADA investigation, prevented him from having a third child. He also raised the issue of his younger team mates who have not been coping mentally well with all the speculation.
Firstly I'd like to say thank you to Paul for raising this very pertinent issue. ASADA's investigation has been anything but private and ever since that infamous press conference last year, most athlete's in the country have been tarred with the same brush, while it would appear a fraction of them may be investigated for possible performance enhancing infringements.
But all along, no one has given much thought or care for the players' mental state. These players even do promotions for the NRL about mental health, especially among men, yet it seems no one has bothered to consider the mental health of these men.
Gallen's comments have seen people criticise the NRL for not acting soon enough on this issue. I'm not convinced that criticism is just. Some may ask, "isn't it the role of the Rugby League Players Association to help look after the players off-field welfare, where possible?"
The RLPA state that they "offer a framework of support services relevant to the needs of members over and above the NRL Administration, NRL Club and Player Agent influence."
I find it hard to believe that not one player at the Cronulla Sharks isn't a member of the RLPA. So I asked the RLPA on Twitter, "What percentage of professional Rugby League players in Australia are affiliated with you (the RLPA)?"
The response was a very resounding "All the NRL players."
So why have players not been getting assistance to help deal with the off-field dramas stemming from the ASADA investigation? Is it because players aren't asking for help? Should the RLPA actively contact players and clubs just to check up on them?
Either way, to me it doesn't appear to be an issue for the NRL, given that the RLPA are over and above the NRL as far as providing support services for players is concerned.
The RLPA can't make ASADA go away, but at least they can help players deal with the off-field pressures that have been heaped upon them via the investigation and the shoddy attempts at journalism by some people in the media, looking for a big scoop to further self-inflate their ego's.
These Rugby League players are humans after all.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Halftime Spray #11 (2014)

It's that time of year again. No, not Origin time.
I'm referring to the time when Craig Bellamy complains about the scheduling of Origin and uses his lack of star players to argue for stand-alone rep weekends.
Everyone rightfully goes after Bellamy and his comments and says "well my team has had to do without player(s) as well."
But Bellamy does raise a very valid point and one I have publicly championed in the past. The NRL is the most prolific club competition in the Rugby League World. This is a power that they should use to help promote the game and spread it further.
In order for this to happen though, the NRL season needs to be shortened. Currently it is carried out over 27 weeks, each team playing 24 games, having 2 byes each and an extra week off for the Trans-Tasman test.
I suggest the removal of bye rounds. Cut the season down to 22 games per side. Three stand-alone weeks for Origin and one stand-alone week for the Trans-Tasman match. That saves a week and gives every team 4 weeks off per year. More importantly, it allows all teams to play their full strength side every week.
The rep weekends could be used to have Test matches played between Pacific Island test sides, in a tri series. The winner could play the victor of a European Cup competition to determine the fourth team in the 4 Nations tournament at the end of the year.
It could also be used to televise a women's Rugby League test match. Games showcasing talent in rural Australia could also be played. Matches between other states is another option. Matches between clubs hoping to be in an expanded NRL could also be played.
There are so many great options available and so many games could be played, that fans would not be left wanting for content. The chance to see new teams and other players not in the NRL competing could be a huge drawcard.
Sadly though, it seems the NRL is content with the parameters it has erected around itself. So we'll all just go back to bagging old Bellyache instead…

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Halftime Spray #10 (2014)

This week the guessing game surrounding James Tedesco's home in 2015 was finally settled, when he agreed to a three year deal at the Canberra Raiders.
The decision though raises a few questions, not about the deal itself, many of which have seen heated debates across the League Unlimited forums:
Players should do their contract negotiations in the off season.Teams signing players mid-season has long caused ire amongst most fans. Watching a player wearing your teams colours, knowing that they won't be doing so the following year. Wondering if said player is focussed on the current season. Questioning if they are putting in enough effort etc.
These are legitimate concerns and fans could not be excused for thinking any of these. If players are allowed to negotiate and make deals about where they are playing the following year, then why not go all the way and just have a mid-season transfer window. If a player agrees to a contract mid-season with another side, he should be allowed to switch to that side straight away. The new club then takes over his remaining salary for the current year.
Should a player who has been signed mid-season be retained in the first grade side?
This is a very tricky question. In the case of Tedesco, he is the Wests Tigers best fullback, but if the club has decided that it won't shop around for a replacement, then they should continue working towards their plan of improvement in 2015. 
Why should the club enhance a departing player's credentials and abilities and suppress that of a retained player? In the Tedesco case, by playing him, his current side would only be helping Canberra at the detriment of the Wests Tigers. In other cases, the side may be a strong premiership chance and will use that player to help reach that greatest of goals.
Should players who leave a club purely for more money be seen in a poor light?
It's understandable for fans to instantly turn on a player after they've announced they are changing clubs and receiving a bigger salary. Loyalty is raised a lot in the modern game, but isn't really shown by any parties (the teams, the players or the governing body) anywhere near as much as it used to, or should do. In short, any player who has the good fortune to be offered a high salary is most likely going to take it. Rugby League players have around a decade to earn essentially the majority of their 40 years of income. If a seemingly injury prone player is in the same situation, then he is even more inclined to take the bigger money offer.
Should the NRL be doing more to reward clubs who produce more local junior talent than others, to help those clubs retain those players when they hit the NRL?Short answer is no. You can't force players to play at particular clubs. Furthermore, some clubs are fortunate to have vastly larger and stronger junior pools to select their future stars from than other clubs. The main priority is ensuring as many of these young players get to play in the NRL.
Some people believe in the romantic concept where loyalty prevails over greed, but in today's world, especially in professional sports, such a concept is becoming more and more rare.
Rugby League is a business. Players are assets. Fans are consumers.