Meninga defended Mitchell, whose effort in Australia’s stunning defeat was questioned by many. ‘‘I know he didn’t have the best game with his hands, but there is no doubt he tried very, very hard,’’ Meninga said. ‘‘The effort and competitiveness was there. It probably wasn’t the best preparation, but they were not alone in doing that.’’
During the week, Meninga said he would need to think long and hard before picking the pair for Australia again. ‘‘It’s not because of the scootering, it’s because of what happened right now,’’ he said, in reference to their breaching COVID-19 isolation laws, firearms charges laid by police and their fines from the NRL. ‘‘What they did was not naive; it didn’t consider the sacrifices that everyone else has made and has been making.’’
Meninga said suggestions that criticism of the pair is racially motivated was off the mark. ‘‘It’s not about racism, it’s about doing the right thing and doing the wrong thing,’’ he said. ‘‘This is not a personal attack. It’s about not making poor decisions. What they did was about jeopardising the future of the game, given the delicate situation the game is in.’’
As for the ad, the man who came up with the concept says the game has to move in a different direction. ‘‘We pulled the ad as soon as the season stopped,’’ Abdo said. ‘‘It was about getting fans to the game and now we have to work on a different message. It’s about getting the game back on. It’s about enjoying it in a different way and we need to emphasise that. We need to work on virtual tribalism. I can assure you it had nothing to do with the events of the last week.’’
I CAN SEE CLEARY NOW
Nathan Cleary knows he has let a lot of people down this week. The Panthers and NSW star was fined $10,000 by the NRL on Tuesday, 60 per cent of which is suspended, after photographs surfaced of him with a group of women on Anzac Day in breach of social distancing rules.
He was also handed a one-game suspended ban. On Friday, the NRL gave him an amended breach notice after further videos emerged of the night. Police opted to take no action.
‘‘What kills me the most is that I have let my teammates down,’’ Cleary said. ‘‘I know how hard they have worked and how hard I’ve worked and I put myself and everyone else in a bad position.’’
He has also taken responsibility for the situation, despite others posting the photos and vision. He said he was only a ‘‘bit’’ angry about the distribution of the images by the girls because he knows he brought it all on himself.
He also distanced Panthers teammate Tyrone May from the situation. May appears in a video drinking beer. May avoided jail when he was sentenced to a three-year community corrections order for his role in the sex tapes scandal at Penrith during the previous pre-season. Many considered him fortunate to be allowed to return to the game by the NRL. Cleary says May decided to leave the gathering on Anzac Day and went to his room.
Cleary will be handed a further penalty for not revealing everything about the night to the NRL integrity unit and in an interview with Nine. The Panthers star says he didn’t tell me or the NRL about the TikTok video that became public on Wednesday because he wasn’t asked about it. His omission came back to bite him, though.
SLAPPED WITH FEATHER
Acting NRL boss Andrew Abdo had a golden opportunity to stamp himself as the strong leader the game needs this week, but he blew it.
The social distancing scandal didn’t just embarrass the game, it jeopardised the whole competition. And it gave all the game’s critics the ammunition they needed to demand that rugby league receive no favours from governments to restart on May 28.
Abdo had a chance to distance himself from the Todd Greenberg era when soft penalties were the norm. Abdo needed to suspend the players for a month or more to demonstrate his leadership. Instead, he followed the Greenberg textbook of pretending to hand out decent penalties, only to suspend most of it. It’s a tactic that doesn’t pass the pub test any more.
BUNCH OF BAD SPORTS
The finger pointing at Nine from some at Fox Sports has been interesting. Nine, the publishers of this masthead, ‘‘isn’t paying for footy, but we love you and we will continue to back the game’’ is the sentiment from Fox.
Nine, and some of its most prominent executives and voices, have been attacked on Fox shows and in News Corp publications. However, it turns out the Foxtel policy has been to let Nine make the running on renegotiating the broadcast deal with the NRL and then jump on the bandwagon.
The Herald revealed on Friday that Foxtel was looking to slash more than $50million from its deal with the NRL this season, while Nine is looking to cut about $28m.
The anti-Nine sentiment dished up on Fox shows by former players and rookie presenters, who weren’t briefed on the situation, is disappointing. Their heavy hitters knew what was going on. And from the moment Nine took control of the negotiations they have read the play. Some others who should know better are just blinded by a hatred of the station and those on it.
Danny Weidler is a sport columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.