This day had been coming for a long time…
For what ever reason, Rugby League loves to forgive its own when they make a mistake. Some would suggest that is a strength of the game, that Rugby League always looks after its own. There comes a point though when the game need to choose between supporting one of its own, or doing whats right.
For the vast majority of the last decade the Canberra Raiders have walked that fine line. Between Todd Carney, Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson, the Raiders have tried to support three very talented footballers whose potential was almost unlimited through scandal after scandal.
In the case of Todd Carney, the club eventually made the decision that enough was enough. They sacked Carney after yet another off field issue and with the backing of the NRL Carney was not allowed to resister a contract with another club for quite some time. That didn’t make it any easier when Carney won the Dally M Medal at the Sydney Roosters though. While Carney eventually got sacked by the Roosters as well, so far it seems as though he has grown up a bit and has his life under control at the Cronulla Sharks.
The Raiders found themselves in almost the exact same situation with Josh Dugan. After years of off field issues that the club supported him through, Dugan eventually burned all of his bridges with his roof top drinking session which was so disrespectful towards the Raiders that even the Raiders players didn’t want him at the club any more. The Raiders sacked Dugan, who spent all of a few weeks on the sidelines before finding a new gig at the St George/Illawarra Dragons.
Blake Ferguson was a player the Raiders offered a big opportunity to. On the field he was erratic, and yet the club supported him through moments where you wondered if his career would ever really go anywhere. Off field issues once again became a problem, and while Ferguson was involved in the famous roof top drinking session with Dugan, he managed to salvage his Raiders career by turning up the next day at the club and promising to change his ways.
As you no doubt know by now, Blake Ferguson has now been charged with indecent assault by police. His NRL contract has basically been put on hold. The Canberra Raiders face losing yet another player because of off field issues.
In all three cases, the players above were given all the support they could ever want by their club. I think it is fair to say that the wider game of Rugby League wanted all three to turn their off field issues around well before any of the players were ready to change their own behaviour.
Todd Carney had barely got his career back on track before he was named the Dally M player of the year. Blake Ferguson and Josh Dugan were both named in the New South Wales State Of Origin team just a couple of months after one of them had been sacked and the other had barely escaped being sacked. For all three players, they were rewarded by the game as soon as they possibly could be. Why?
Surely the highest accolades in the game should go to players that value the game. There are hundreds of players out there that actually manage to behave themselves and who are a credit to the game. For what ever reason Rugby League values a player on the path to redemption above a player that has no off field issues at all.
I’m not naive enough to suggest that we start selecting teams based on a players quality of character, but we really need to think twice before we hand a valued, high profile, high paying position to players who could possibly embarrass the game.
In March 2013 Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson behaved in a way that saw one of them sacked by their club and the other barely hold onto his job. It was always a risk handing those two players one of the highest accolades in the game just a couple of months later.
The long road back towards redemption is a compelling story. I believe that Rugby League as a sport needs to reestablish how long back that road really is. It is clear that under David Smith and with the NRL Integrity Unit in place, things are changing. A certain level of off field behaviour is now expected of our games leading players. Hopefully in the future this standard will filter through the collective thinking of administrators, coaches, players and fans and the sport will think twice before it hands its sinners the highest honours it can offer.
As the old saying goes: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
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