A Lack Of Leadership Driven By A Culture Of Mateship

Professional Rugby League does not lend itself to building leadership qualities in the modern day player.

Think about it…

Rugby League is a team sport with a culture of breaking down the individual. If a player stands out in some way, they are very likely to become a target on the field. If you have played the game, you know exactly what I am talking about. Turn up to a footy field ready for a game, if someone on the opposition is mouthing off, has dyed their hair a weird colour, or is just a really good player that is clearly the best in the opposition side, you want to belt them first.

The people that play Rugby League have a certain type of mindset too. There’s a reason we don’t have players that make impassioned speeches before games. There is a reason teams don’t run out onto the field screaming and carrying on as they try to pump themselves up. Rugby League players have always had a quiet intensity about them. Its what they value. The player who goes out there, plays great, doesn’t say a word and who doesn’t act like he is the best player on the field. Act like you’ve been there before. Act like your best is the norm and walk off the field as just one of the boys.

When a player in Rugby League has a personality that stands out, they become a lightening rod for criticism. You could be the best player in the word, if you dared you suggest it yourself, people across the game will immediately hate. That is just the culture of the sport.

Our elite players get conditioned to joining representatives camps where time is short and the needs of the individual are outweighed by the need to gel as a team within a short space of time. There is not time to establish individual leadership in these camps. Players are told to just go out there, do their job well, and everything will turn out fine.

Teams have bonding sessions to spend time as a group and feel like they are part of the collective.

There’s a reason Rugby League has always struggled to form a decent players association. The culture is one of not speaking up and no differentiation yourself from your team mates. You want to stand up and talking about issues that could have a direct impact on my career? I don’t wanna hear about that. Just tell me what to sign and I’ll sign it, just like the rest of my team mates.

There is a reason why when the Super League War broke out, players were signed up en masse. There is a reason we hear stories of players being bundled onto buses and signed as a group. Peer pressure is one of the biggest factors in the game and Rugby League administrators have known that for years.

When a star players comes off contract, loyalty gets tossed up. You can’t leave your team mates for personal gain. Of course, when a club wants rid of a player they just get rid of them. It is happening even to this very day as the Canberra Raiders pressure youngster Josh Papalii to stay at the club after he has apparently signed to play with the Parramatta Eels next season. His coach and team mates are speaking out against the move in public. Imagine what is happening in private!

It is within this culture that issues start to arise. When player behavior starts to get out of hand players don’t stand up and pull one of their team mates aside because that is not the culture of the game any more.

Where once players worked and had lived away from Rugby League, now they don’t. Now players are immersed in the culture of the sport 24/7. Their team mates are also their friends. They are who they socialize with. Calling out one of your team mates for their behavior is a dangerous thing to do. It separates you from the group. That is not something the game values.

I always think of this culture that Rugby League has created when something goes wrong. I always wonder if there was a moment when someone recognized something bad was going to happen but kept their mouth shut.

Being a leader isn’t an easy thing. It is much easier to be a follower. When you’re a leader, you are a target. You separate yourself from everyone else. Our game struggles with a lack of leadership for a reason. That is why it is refreshing when a great leader does come along. When someone is willing to take the baggage that comes with leadership on board.

I can only imagine the scene when Todd Greenberg made the decision to suspend his clubs best player indefinitely on the eve of the season. Players would have been upset. No doubt the coach was furious. People within club management would have questioned the decision. It was the right thing to do though.

Rugby League has made great strides in recent years to try to socially engineer the perfect footballer. A monster on the field, a politician off it. Maybe it is time though that clubs start to look at players as more than just part of the collective. Maybe its time to acknowledge that the individual needs training to become a leader. Not in a room for of his team mates.

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