Printouts are provided of schedules and videos are emailed of their previous game, with the plusses deliberately outnumbering the negatives lest the player becomes distressed. Clubs employ experts to monitor their “wellness”.
They are in a disciplined, controlled environment, often with alcohol bans. Interaction with the public at the local pub is almost non-existent. Furthermore, the game demands they be aggressive – and the best act on instinct. When the season finishes, they are released from the bubble and are often on their own. The end-of-season trip, once a focal part of the calendar, has been replaced by a pre-season camp.
Some of today’s players still go on end-of-season trips. But the leash is off and the first dumb decision they make is to holiday in Bali.
Take the most recent example of headline-making player misbehaviour – the Broncos’ David Fifita’s altercation with a security guard in Bali, resulting in him spending three nights in a cell and paying $30,000 for his release. Fifita’s club season finished with a semi-final thrashing by the Eels but he was selected in a Kangaroos squad, meaning his playing season was extended by a month while he played in games against Pacific countries. He was joined in Bali by another Bronco, Payne Haas, who also represented Australia but is a non-drinker.
Fifita visited the same Bali nightclub where Storm player Nelson Asofa-Solomona was filmed on a mobile phone swinging punches at a random idiot who attacked his teammate, Suliasi Vunivalu.
One suggestion to overcome rugby league’s litany of off-field scandals is to invoke the “third-man rule”, in other words have a teammate step in when his friend is about to enter what Catholic priests once called “the occasion of sin”.
Sober guys like Haas are unlikely to be in those situations and, in the case of Asofa-Solomona, he was stepping in to protect his mate from being glassed.
No, the solution to the bad behaviour is to encourage players into decision-making situations throughout the season, giving them some ownership over club strategies. Perhaps this education will prepare them for the off-season when they don’t have decisions made for them.
Clubs do try. Players attend regular lectures on the dangers of social media and even see scripted films of threatening situations when wrong decisions are made.
But the public must also realise they demand a double standard from players. The game needs them to be aggressive on the field, yet submissive off it. Risk-takers at work but non-risk-takers during leisure time. A player is expected to protect his teammate when an opponent comes into a tackle with fists flying, yet is supposed to stand back when it happens outside a Bali nightclub, lest he be suspended for three Test matches and fined $15,000.
At the end of the day, players need to take responsibility but clubs can help by relaxing the shackles during the season. When the Storm played Manly in August at Brookvale, I travelled with the team.
An alcohol ban was in place but, by defeating the Sea Eagles, the Storm won the minor premiership. Coach Craig Bellamy made the decision, while obviously sober, to relax the ban, allowing only one beer each.
But they’d beaten Manly 36-6!
What rugby league needed at that time was a few ancient Persians to review the one-beer decision.
Roy Masters is a Sports Columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.