KICKOFF: Time for the NRL to stand for something

POWERFUL: Macklemore performs Same Love before last year's NRL grand final between Melbourne and North Queensland. Picture: AAP
POWERFUL: Macklemore performs Same Love before last year's NRL grand final between Melbourne and North Queensland. Picture: AAP

I never paid much attention in science class, in fact I spent most of my time lighting gas-taps on fire with a bunsen burner.

However, it was hard to escape the teaching of Newton’s third law, I’m sure you’ve heard of it: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. 

It’s something the NRL has often failed to consider when it comes to letting it’s problem children in and out of the game. 

This week, Raiders fullback Jack Wighton was charged with nine offences relating to a brawl outside a Canberra night club. 

He plead not guilty, was selected for the Raiders clash with the Eels this weekend and is, of course, entitled to the presumption of innocence.

The handling of such incidents, and subsequent charges, are first a matter for the club concerned. The NRL then reserves the right to intervene if they deem the club’s response unsatisfactory or too lenient.

What the Wighton matter does reveal, is the NRL itself has greatly compromised that right given it’s handling of Matt Lodge’s return to the game.

Kickoff isn’t going to rake over old coals when it comes to Lodge. It’s all been said, people have made their judgements. The NRL did the same in making their call.

Sure, the Broncos’, and coach Wayne Bennett’s, apparent determination to rub everyone’s noses in it hasn’t helped the NRL’s sell. What was clearly not considered, was how that decision would weaken it’s standing in disciplinary issues that will inevitably arise in the future.

“If we let Matt Lodge back into the game, then why don't we let [such and such] back?” has become a very common refrain. The bar is sitting pretty damn low.

The NRL thought it had closed the book on Todd Carney for instance. However, they’re handling of Lodge has breathed new life into Carney’s push for a return and it’s hard to argue. It’s Newton’s third law at work.

Now, the book the NRL can throw at Wighton should he be found guilty is very, very thin. It wouldn’t knock a sparrow of it’s perch. It illustrates just how important it is to get such decisions right.

Which brings us to Israel Folau and rugby league’s apparent efforts to bring him back.

One of the most powerful moments this columnist has witnessed covering rugby league came prior to last year’s NRL grand final.  There’d been a massive hoo-ha around US rapper Macklemore and his promise to perform his gay rights anthem Same Love.

Tony Abbott, and other dinosaurs, led the opposition but, what no one could be sure of, was how the rank and file of Australia’s blue-collar game would react.

I sat nervously with a media colleague worried that a hostile reception would ensue. What happened was the complete opposite. 

The stadium was lit bright by phone lights as 80,000 people waved in support the song’s message. I’ve never been prouder of our game.

In the face of opposition to Macklemore’s performance last season, NRL CEO Todd Greenberg made a firm and admirable stand in favour of love and inclusion.

The NRL’s stance (or lack thereof) on more grievous crimes notwithstanding, Greenberg’s conviction when it comes to inclusion doesn’t need to waver.

Folau is the only current Wallaby the average punter on the street could pick out of a photo line-up and the ARU knows it. That’s why ARU chief Raelene Castle danced the heel and toe polka around the issue on Tuesday.

This column isn’t suggesting Folau should be sacked, or even fined, it merely illustrates the NRL’s hypocrisy were it to roll out the welcome mat to lure him back.

Unlike rugby union, the NRL has myriad superstars. The game doesn’t need Folau and it especially doesn’t need to be used as a bargaining chip in his tiff with the ARU. 

Quite rightly, the NRL recently banned two fans indefinitely for racially abusing Rabbitohs captain Greg Inglis. They cannot return until they have undergone “adequate education” and issued an apology.

Were Folau to jump ship, would he be subjected the same stipulations before the NRL registered his contract? That would appear unlikely because, “if we let Matt Lodge back….

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