‘‘I don’t speak out about things I don’t know about but I can speak about this. I can tell you and players about going to rehab and the benefits. I’ve lived every day of it. I think what James has done is something he should be proud of. There is no shame in seeking help.
‘‘He is fortunate that he has Wayne [Bennett, Souths coach] in his corner and I want him to know that he has me for support if he needs it when he gets out. I really think he deserves congratulations. In the old days, people would keep this kind of thing secret [and] be ashamed.
‘‘Darius Boyd really helped with changing that, and if I can help James or any others I want to do that. We don’t just have to suck it up and be tough any more. For people to send that message is wrong. You know, James never looked in better shape than he did when he came back from pre-season but he clearly had other things going on. I’m proud he has taken the steps he has and we should be there for him when he needs it. I know I will be.’’
It was Bennett who encouraged Roberts to get out of his coronavirus isolation hell and back into a rehabilitation facility.
Roberts needs structure in his life, and he needs to be busy. If he isn’t, he has too much time to think about his past, which haunts him.
He needs to establish a plan to deal with his issues and, importantly, a plan to deal with life after football, when the applause and the bright lights are gone.
Harsh reality TV
The TV rights talks between Nine (the publisher of this masthead), Foxtel and the NRL had been spirited but friendly for the most part but that has changed in recent times. Discussions about the revised season draw have been brutal; Nine and Fox have thrown out all niceties. There has also been some agenda-driven reporting, such as the story that Nine killed off Monday night football. According to the NRL, it was never seriously discussed for the return round but is on the draw for round four. So it’s hardly dead.
Nine and Fox are digging in and their partnership is now far from amicable. Acting NRL boss Andrew Abdo has been left to clean up the mess and had to work hard to get a draw out on Friday. Some big figures have been tossed around but these are the facts: for the next three years, Fox will get about a $100 million discount on its existing deal and Nine will save in the order of $70m. Fox has a long-term deal in place. Nine does not.
Cleary as mud
Nathan Cleary can’t talk his way out of the mistakes he has made and the lies he has told. But everyone makes mistakes and everyone deserves a second chance. He should be judged on what he does now, and those actions will determine when he is made captain of his club and, potentially, his state.
Cleary has been privately working the phones, trying to make good with people he let down. He even called a fan disappointed by the young half’s breach of social distancing rules and attempts to cover it up. The 22-year-old also spoke with a fan and former soldier who ripped into Cleary for his disrespectful behaviour on Anzac Day, accepted the criticism and dealt with it. Nine was also on the list following his interview with me, during which he failed to tell the whole truth.
Cleary’s word is now questioned and his image damaged. Most attacks of the attacks have been based on accurate information. That said, he did have to the call the sports editor of The Daily Telegraph to take issue with an incorrect story. The report, which was repeated on pay television, said Cleary had filmed the TikTok video at the home of one of the girls featured in the footage. That is not correct.
The back-page story did, however, reveal Cleary had left his house to pick up the girls, which earned him a $1000 fine from police and further sanctions from the NRL.
The Panthers have also been wrongly accused of spinning the story on Cleary’s behalf and pushing it to the media. The process went like this. I called Panthers coach Ivan Cleary to discuss images I’d received of Nathan on social media. He called Nathan to get his version of events. Nathan then called me to say he wanted to publicly apologise. Along the way, Panthers chief executive Brian Fletcher and board members were informed, and Nathan apologised to the playing group. It was unplanned and uncomplicated – until the Telegraph uncovered the TikTok videos.
From there plenty of lessons have been learnt and old hostilities renewed. Nathan has some making up to do, but he will come through and look at the world differently.
The latest issue causing concern for the NRL is the teams’ doctors. Many are still working their day jobs, which puts them in touch with members of the public and that is far from ideal under the new biosecurity protocols.
There are strict rules surrounding face-to-face visits with doctors, but the concern remains. Meanwhile, the whining from the referees about the move to one on-field official is hard to take. The whistle-blowers say they have had their incomes cut by 20 per cent. They have not made mention of the fact they are now only working four days a week.
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Danny Weidler is a sport columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.