The NRL will consider drug testing players for illicit substances in the off-season as part of the next collective bargaining agreement from 2023.
If the Rugby League Players Association agrees to the unprecedented move, head office would step back sanctions under the current Illicit Drugs Policy that sees players warned for the first strike, banned for 12 matches for a second and deregistered for a third.
In other words: less sanctioning and greater counselling, education and welfare.
Some at the NRL believe taking a “holistic approach” to recreational drug use would have a greater impact than fines and suspensions.
The issue is expected to be raised when negotiations between the NRL and RLPA begin later this year.
Given the backlash the NRL has copped this week for the sanctions handed to Storm trio Cameron Munster, Brandon Smith and Chris Lewis, and Warriors rookie Reece Walsh, it might be a harder sell to the public than the players.
Cameron Munster and, inset, the infamous video that created a storm for the Storm.Credit:Getty, NRL Images
But it shouldn’t be.
The faux outrage, conspiracy theories and, in some cases, outright hypocrisy from some commentators and former players has been breathtaking. If only the walls could talk.
Warriors chief executive Cameron George has every right to ask why Walsh received a two-match ban while the Storm trio were handed just one, but surely he doesn’t require an answer.
Walsh was arrested and charged by police with drug possession, and then admitted in a media conference later in the day — sitting alongside George — that he had a “small bag of cocaine” on his person.
The Storm trio weren’t arrested, charged, didn’t break the law, and haven’t admitted to taking anything.
“But they should!” cries the mob, who would do no such thing if they found themselves in the same circumstances, unaware of the details of this situation and the penalty awaiting them.
“But it doesn’t pass the pub test!” some argue, naive to what’s going on in the toilet cubicles at most pubs on a Friday night.
“But how can they say they didn’t know what the ‘mystery white powder’ was!” others claim, ignoring the fact that they don’t either.
So what precisely is the appropriate sanction for a footballer who has been secretly filmed on someone’s mobile phone without their knowledge, who hasn’t inhaled a mystery white powder but just in the same room as it?
One match? Four? Six? A season?
People have also done a James Harden-like eye roll — Google it — about the Storm putting Munster on a 12-month alcohol ban and sending him to rehab for a month.
It’s a cynical view. Those who have spent a month in a rehab facility will tell you it’s no retreat. It’s intensive introspection picking at the ugly scabs of your life in front of a room full of people you don’t know.
For a month. Hardly a copout.
Then there’s the argument about not testing the players after the video was leaked.
The NRL, Storm, RLPA and even the media could not have been any clearer about this a week ago when the video first surfaced: under the current CBA, players can only be tested for illicit substances when in a club environment, whether that’s at training or in the pre-season.
Should those rules be changed, allowing the NRL to test in the off-season?
It would surprise if the RLPA agreed to such a fundamental change, but kudos to the NRL for considering a mature, contemporary approach to the issue rather than throwing the proverbial book at players.
Because that’s always stopped young’uns taking drugs elsewhere in society, hasn’t it? By disciplining them.
We all wanted to get Munstered with Munster a year ago. Get hectic with Hectic Cheese. Now some want their contracts torn up.
Sure, the game has an image to protect. This is the NRL, not The Wolf of Wall Street.
But we celebrate the likes of Munster and Smith as knockabouts and throwbacks — then condemn them when they stray out of their lane.
We all wanted to get Munstered with Munster a year ago after the Storm won the grand final. Get hectic with Hectic Cheese. Now some want their contracts torn up.
Rugby league’s moral compass has always been a little unbalanced.
The Panthers are being celebrated after their grand final win, as they should be, but then Tyrone May decides to fire up Instagram and post an image of himself leaving court early last year with coach Ivan Cleary.
He posts lyrics from Canadian rapper Drake, painting himself as the victim — somehow — from the sex-tape scandal that rocked the game and his club in 2019.
May eventually pleaded guilty to four counts of intentionally recording an intimate image without consent with the magistrate telling him during sentencing that he was lucky to not go to jail.
He was handed a three-year good behaviour bond and ordered to perform 300 hours of community service.
May’s post, which has since been deleted, was tone-deaf but not as much as his Penrith teammates posting underneath in support.
Apparently, winning a grand final justifies the act of illegally distributing sex videos that have shamed a woman, who is taking civil action.
In comparison to what the Storm players and Reece Walsh have done, I know which indiscretion I find more offensive and damaging to the reputation of rugby league.
More bad News…
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
A decade after News Corp was supposedly extricated from the game, and the independent commission formed, the media giant’s fingerprints remain all over “rugba leeg”.
It’s just a matter of time before Redcliffe is announced as the second Brisbane team but NRL clubs and rival bidders are furious about the process.
As reported in this space a week ago, there have been growing concerns that the News Corp-owned Broncos want Redcliffe because it considers it less of a threat than the Firehawks and Jets, which are keen to attract new fans to rugby league from Brisbane’s mushrooming western corridor.
Then reports emerge this week that News Corp’s Foxtel has agreed to inflate its broadcast revenue by as much as $100m over the five-year cycle of the next deal on the condition that Redcliffe gets the licence.
See the pattern emerging here?
The Broncos should have been stitching up Brisbane’s west long before NRL expansion returned to the agenda.Credit:Getty
Some argue News has every right to say which club gets the licence because it’s kicking in the money. When it owns another club in the same market, however, that presents a serious conflict of interest.
Rugby league’s newest team should be about what’s best for the game, not what’s best for the Broncos, which should’ve been stitching up the west long before the AFL mobilised and started moving in.
Meanwhile, you didn’t have to read too much between the lines to work out where Wayne Bennett will coach next when he said after Souths’ grand final loss that he had “a number of options on the table”.
The ARL Commission is expected to make an announcement on the new team early next week.
“I go sleeveless for one game and they hit me with a ‘you got a random drug test in the morning’.” — A tweet from Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett after ripping his sleeves off his jumper for the match against Minnesota Vikings. That said, he does have Warwick Farms (translation: arms) the actual size of Warwick Farm.
Former Brownlow Medallist and recovering addict Ben Cousins has been named Employee of the Month at Rigsafe Lifting Solutions. “Ben’s work ethic, attitude and Rigsafe ‘teamwork always’ values has made him a very reliable member of our rigging team,” the company said on Facebook. Well done, Ben.
Like the AFL, the NRL’s hands were tied with its pre-match entertainment because of border restrictions but let’s face it: it was a stinker. As one SEN listener mused, it was more Lame Trees than Flame Trees. As for Timmy Trumpet, is that a musician or jail talk?
It’s a big weekend for …
Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder who, on Sunday in Las Vegas, meet for the third time. Wilder, the outsider, predicts: “I see me beating him up and then knocking him out”. Fury: “You can’t write him off”. Fury in five. You heard it here first. Unless it doesn’t happen.
It’s an even bigger weekend for …
The good people of Greater Sydney and beyond who have sought comfort in the warm bosom of sport during these lonely months of lockdown. One more weekend before the city opens like a beautiful flower and we replicate the running of the bulls to the nearest Pub TAB.
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