Worthy Dragons campaign blurred by drama

EDITORIAL

This paper has been a medium for the NRL, and more specifically the Dragons, to spread the anti-bullying gospel within Australian schools all summer.

Scores of press releases bounce through inboxes, phone calls are made to intensify the pursuit and seemingly endless pic opportunities are offered. Some media bite, some media don’t.

But when it comes to a selection of some of the most recognisable Australian athletes heading back to school to teach such a noble cause, it pays to get along every now and again.

An SBS television crew, whose pursuit of the round-ball game means it frequents WIN Stadium primarily for once-in-a-blue-moon A-League friendlies, even popped along to dabble in a league story.

The Mercury ran a front-page pic of the Dragons on one such visit to Albion Park Rail Public School for its January 30 edition.

Slow news day? Possibly, but maybe some kudos should be extended to the NRL and its clubs, which have inundated schools in Australia with these community visits.

Now herein lies the problem.

What takes months of painstaking planning and carefully constructed media messages is often blurred in a moment of madness.

Cue Craig Garvey, a highly promising Dragons player who had assault charges levelled against him earlier this week after an incident outside a Wollongong hotel nine days ago.

Amid all the hoopla and buzz about rugby league being back, the issue of alcohol-fuelled incidents is the one constant.

Yet, in light of a promotion blitz in primary schools stretching from Torres Strait to Toorak, the game - on face value - has even more to lose now.

What are the children, from those schools stretching all the way down the South Coast which were reached out to by Garvey’s Dragons teammates, thinking now?

Worse still, what about their parents? See them ramming home the importance of little Billy listening in school today because a Dragon is going to deliver a message at a special visit later that day?

The Dragons, somewhat understandably, have refused to provide further comment on the issue. They’ve stood Garvey down and he will face court later this month.

The mere fact Garvey has been charged is a rare stain on a club which has cultivated a squeaky clean image in the middle of the sport’s mad men era.

Let it be stressed, Garvey is entitled to the presumption of innocence and will be provided with the chance to tell his side of the story.

But it’s afterwards that St George Illawarra and the NRL’s integrity unit will face their biggest test. The Dragons have been desperate to claw back ground in a Wollongong market where they’ve already cut two home games. So what message will they choose to send if they think Garvey is deserving of a further sanction?

Don’t for a second think it will be an easy option to cut another low-profile player who will pay high consequences for his actions.

Despite only playing two NRL games, St George Illawarra thought so much of Garvey they set Cameron King free of his contract early and didn’t fight for Damien Cook’s signature in the off-season.

He was set to hound Mitch Rein, a fellow partygoer on the night in question, all year for the first-choice hooker’s role.

But his on-field ability should have nothing to do with the punishment, if one is meted out or warranted, regardless of being a two-game rookie rather than an indispensable 200-game veteran.

And maybe then rugby league can finally reach a point where it practises what it preaches.

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