Why The Independence Of The NRL Is Vital To The Games Future

It would be very easy to sit back and suggest that what we are seeing happen to the Parramatta Eels right now is the result of terrible management of a club that has been a bit of a basket case for close on 30 years. That would be missing the much bigger picture though.

In a week that saw disgruntled NRL clubs sit down with the NRL itself and bring up their concerns about the way the game is being run, I can’t help but think that it is the way our clubs are run that is the games biggest problem.

Think about the last ten years you have been supporting your club. If you can honestly say that your club hasn’t had some sort of major issue that caused lots of heartache or soul searching by it’s supporter base, you probably haven’t been following a club for the last ten years!

Just off the top of my head I can think of these issues…

The Penrith Panthers run into the ground prior to major management changes led by Phil Gould and Ivan Cleary.

The Melbourne Storm systematically cheating the NRL salary cap.

The Brisbane Broncos investigated (and cleared) for financial irregularities between the NRL and it’s Leagues club.

The Newcastle Knights perilous financial situation, the purchase by Nathan Tinkler, and then the revoking of the clubs licence by the NRL from Tinkler.

The St George/Illawarra Dragons needing loans from the NRL due to their poor financial situation.

The Gold Coast Titans being taken over by the NRL due to financial issues.

The Wests Tigers effectively taken over by the NRL as one side of the joint venture effectively collapses.

The Manly Sea Eagles constant infighting at board level.

The New Zealand Warriors found guilty of breaching the NRL salary cap and starting a season on negative competition points.

The Cronulla Sharks financial situation compounded by the ASADA investigation into illegal use of banned substances.

The Sydney Roosters having constant issues regarding the off field behaviour of it’s players.

The Canberra Raiders, North Queensland Cowboys and South Sydney Rabbitohs haven’t had too many issues in terms of terrible management decisions or major controversies.

As for the Canterbury Bulldogs, their poor supporter base has become so defensive about anything that is said about their club because they have to deal with one thing after another. That can’t be fun for them at all!

So as you can see, most our clubs have done a pretty decent job of lurching from one disaster to another. It’s not just one or two clubs, it’s the vast majority of clubs!

Generally, our NRL clubs are so poorly run that the NRL itself is slowly having to step in and take control of them one by one. This is something that could never have happened in the past. If one club needed assistance and the ARL/NRL stepped into to take control of them, other clubs would have blown up about it. This would have had political consequences within Rugby League and the power brokers would have found their club based supporters deserting them. This would have inevitably led to them losing their jobs.

That is why the independent commission is so vital to the sport. The independence of the commission allows the NRL to make decisions based on what is the best outcome for the entire sport, not just NRL clubs, and not just the major clubs who have the biggest sway in terms on political power.

Many Parramatta Eels supporters right now are calling on the NRL to step in and take control of the club in some capacity. The NRL would find that difficult to do however as the club isn’t suffering from any major financial problems. Normally the NRL only steps in and takes control of a club if that club is about to go broke.

It makes me wonder if the push for the privatisation of clubs could lead to the NRL itself owning more clubs in the future. Could there be any better owner of a club than the league itself, who has no other reason to exist other than to propagate the expansion and continued growth of the game? Who is in an extremely healthy position financially. Who can draw upon incredible mounts of resources and business knowledge to keep clubs in a position to be well run, well maintained, abiding by basic business practices, and not underhandedly trying to find ways to break the rules that the competition is run by over and over again?

Having a well run club administration is vital to a clubs on field success. For the most part, if your club is poorly run, the team on the field will not be all that good either. Sure, there are exceptions like the Manly Sea Eagles in recent years, but look at how that house or cards has collapsed in 2015!

As the NRL sends in cleanup crews from one club to the next, sorting out issues, helping them not break the salary cap next season, loaning out money, having a say on who joins boardrooms, investigating financial irregularities, and even taking ownership of some clubs completely….at what point does the NRL decide it should just own every club itself, appoint board members to it’s franchises it can trust, and run the entire competition in a manner that completely removes political infighting between clubs and the constant threat that clubs will break away from the NRL so they can try to strong arm more money out of the NRL?

Over the last year we have seen a number of high profile NRL club power brokers questioning the NRL’s finances. They have openly asked why the game is spending so much money on administration at NRL level.

I would love to know exactly how much our NRL clubs themselves spend on their administrators. How many of them are driving free cars they negotiated for themselves on behalf of the clubs they are running so poorly? How many millions of dollars does the game spend on NRL club administrations that STILL need the NRL to step in and work through all of the problems these people keep creating.

The independent commission was a huge leap forward for Rugby League. It has already seen so many behind the scenes changes. It has helps to stabilise the game, seen junior Rugby League get more funding, and in many ways brought the entire game together as one giant force.

Players have stepped up their game too. The athleticism and skill we are seeing right now is incredible. That we are at a point where the league is looking at lowering the interchange to 8 per game because 120 kilogram monsters are starting to play so many minutes is incredible. Players are doing their bit to push the game forward and they should be commended for that.

Where Rugby League is being let down is at club level. Where NRL clubs put their hands out for more money as they lurch from one crisis to another.

What we are seeing happen at the Parramatta Eels isn’t extraordinary. It’s pretty much the norm for what is happening in NRL club land these days. We are very lucky that the NRL has the independence and the experience to be called upon by clubs, and their supporter bases, when issues arise like the ones we are seeing at the Eels right now.

You should question why anyone would want to undermine that independence. You should question their motivation. You should ask why they want to have more of a say in how our independent governing body is running the game at a time when our independent governing body is running the entire game so well.

Where are all the calls for change coming from?

NRL club administrators…

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