North Queensland Cowboys halfback Johnathan Thurston has accused the National Rugby League of widespread collusion in an effort to have an all-Sydney Grand Final. Thurstons claims came after the Cowboys had their season finish on the back of a disgraceful refereeing mistake that saw the Cronulla Sharks score a try on the 7th tackle in clubs elimination final on Saturday night.
“One-hundred per cent there is a bias towards Sydney … 100 per cent,”
“Sydney and NSW haven’t won anything for that long, we’ve won all these Origin series, of course that (an all-Sydney grand final) is what they want.”
“To be honest, I hope Melbourne win it, I really hope Melbourne win it.”
“I just can’t stand Sydney mate.”
“I’m still shattered about what’s happened. We’re the ones going home with our tails between our legs yet again.”
“Two years in a row we have been dudded by the NRL’s referees.”
Johnathan Thurston’s suggestion that there is some grand conspiracy to have an all Sydney Grand Final is ridiculous. It sounds paranoid!
I can understand that the North Queensland Cowboys are upset at how they lost the game. There is no way the NRL can dress the result up. The Cowboys ultimately lost the match as a result of the point awarded from a try that took 7 tackles to score.
However, for Thurston to suggest that the NRL is involved in wide spread match fixing is nothing short of disgraceful. He has directly attacked the integrity of the entire sport in a very public forum.
In my opinion Johnathan Thurston should be fined $50,000 and suspended for at least 12 weeks.
The NRL needs to send a message that these type of unfounded accusations that damage the sport are not tolerated.
The Emotional Reaction
Thurston and the Cowboys have every reason to be very upset about the way their season finished. Overall it hasn’t been a season anyone at the club can look back on with much pride.
There is a big difference between being upset and being stupid. What Thuston said was stupid. He is one of the highest paid players in the sport. You obviously don’t come up with a “Sydney conspiracy” out of the blue. Its pretty clear this is something Thurston has thought for a long time.
In the same way the sport does not tolerate “I was just upset” as a defense in the judiciary, it can not allow it to be a defense in this case.
Freedom Of Speech
First of all, this is Australia. We don’t actually have “freedom of speech” as you see refered to in movies and on television.
You can not defame or slander a persons reputation in Australia.
Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy found that out the hard way. He was forced to settle a defamation case out of court after he questioned the integrity of the NRL judiciary panel.
What needs to be remembered is that yes, this is just sport, but this is how people make their living. The integrity of officials and referees is paramount to their ability to get work.
When you question their integrity you are putting their potential career earnings at risk. When that happens on the back of opinions that can not be supported by anything more than a hunch or a feeling, people get sued!
The Refereeing Blunder
There is was you can excuse the 7 tackle try. It was a huge mistake and ultimately cost the Cowboys the season. The referee’s involved will be punished for it.
The thing is, referee’s make mistakes. They are human. Over the course of a season these mistakes even out. Some go in your favour, others go against you.
There are no guarantees in life, and there are certainly no guarantees in Rugby League. If you can not handle the fact that sometimes decisions will go against you, don’t play the game!
Incompetence vs Integrity
There is a very big difference between questioning the competence of NRL referees and officials and questioning their integrity.
You can say a referee performed poorly. You can say his decisions were wrong. You can say he cost you the game. You can even say that he should be dropped.
You can not suggest that he made decisions based on a directive from the NRL to favour one side over the other. You can not suggest he is a cheat. You can not suggest that the decisions he made were based on financial concerns of any kind.
It is a similar story with the NRL itself.
You can suggest that David Smith is doing a terrible job as the NRL’s CEO. You can say that John Grant is MIA. You can question the decisions the games administration has made. You can not under any circumstances suggest that the NRL sits down, looks at the numbers and then gives the referees a directive to favour some teams over others.
The funny thing is, the same standards apply to players.
You can suggest a players form is terrible. That he should be dropped. That he should be sacked! You can’t go around saying that they are throwing games though.
Johnathan Thurston has effectively accused the National Rugby League of wide spread match fixing. He better be ready to back that claim up in a court if law.
Queensland’s Dominance Of State Of Origin Football
Queensland has won the last 8 State Of Origin series in a row. It is a level of dominance we have never seen at State Of Origin level before.
The Queensland winning streak covers an interesting era in the games history in that it crosses a period in which the game was underfunded by a poorly negotiated broadcasting deal, and was in full swing when the NRL negotiated a billion dollar broadcasting deal.
Estimates suggest the State Of Origin series is worth over $30 million a year to the game. That is not even taking into account the flow on promotional opportunities the series provides the game in expansion markets.
In 2013 the State Of Origin series broke television and attendance records.
All of the above suggest that Queensland’s winning run at State Of Origin level is exactly what a bean counter at the NRL would want! The Queensland Rugby League team is on the cusp of a decade of dominance, and over the decade State Of Origin has become the most valuable sporting product in Australia.
The Value Non NSW Based Clubs
The New Zealand Warriors are one of the jewels in the crown of the National Rugby League. Their presence in New Zealand allows the game to command tens of millions of dollars from New Zealand based broadcasters.
When the Auckland Warriors went bust in 2000 the NRL made sure the New Zealand Warriors were up and running by the start of the following season. Simply put, the Warriors were far too valuable to be allowed to fold.
When the Gold Coast Titans ran into financial issues because of their investment in a property development the NRL stepped in. They could not afford to allow the Gold Coast Titans to fold.
They installed a new administration at the Titans and helped the club clear debts. The NRL basically stepped in and took over the club to a certain extent. That arms length management of the Titans is still in place today. While the NRL doesn’t directly control the Titans, they have more than a close eye on how they run their business these days.
As the National Rugby League moved towards independence the long term welfare of its expansion clubs become a priority. Their value to the game could not be overstated.
This the the likes of the Melbourne Storm and North Queensland Cowboys protected long term.
While Sydney teams are great for Sydney, the games wealth is driven by non Sydney teams. The collective television audience they bring to the game is the reason the sport has a billion dollar broadcasting deal.
Why The Conspiracy Is Completely Ridiculous
The Grand Final sells out no matter who plays in the game. So forget income from gate takings, it doesn’t change depending on which team makes the Grand Final.
The ideal Grand Final for the National Rugby League in terms of financial return is a match between the Melbourne Storm and the Brisbane Broncos.
That match up would see big television ratings in Victoria and Queensland. As for New South Wales, the Grand Final rates highly in NSW no matter who is playing. That has been proven year after year.
One of the highest rating Grand Finals of all times was in 2006 when the Melbourne Storm took on the Brisbane Broncos. There were concerns as to how NSW fans would take to the first Grand Final to not feature a Sydney club. Those fears were unfounded, the game was a huge success for the games bottom line.
Ironically the 2005 NRL Grand Final between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Wests Tigers was one of the most successful Grand Final of all time!
Why Johnathan Thurston Should Be Fined And Suspended
To have one of the games highest profile players attacking the integrity of the sport and claiming there is wide spread collusion and match fixing by administrators and referees is totally unacceptable under any circumstances.
A strong sign needs to be sent to everyone within the game that this will not be tolerated.
Johnathan Thurston should be fined a minimum of $50,000 as should coach Neil Henry. Thurston should also be forced to spend time on the sidelines. Why? Because this sort of allegation hurts the game as much as any off field incident does.
You think you won’t be referring to the “Sydney conspiracy” any time a Sydney team wins in the last few seconds against a non Sydney club from now on???
What Johnathan Thurston said was disgraceful. He needs to be punished for it.
This is the easy way out. Thurston should hope for this outcome because if the referees involved of people running the NRL take this on themselves, a $50,000 will seem like nothing to the potential payout he would be forced to pay in a defamation case.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com