Kent: NRL must act after summer of discontent
JACK de Belin emerged from Wollongong Local Court on Tuesday a hot and blistery reminder that the NRL's summer of pain will bleed into winter.
De Belin pleaded not guilty to the charge of aggravated sexual assault. He was adjourned to next appear on April 17, five rounds into the NRL season.
Jarryd Hayne, uncontracted, is due for mention in Newcastle Local Court on Wednesday, also charged with aggravated sexual assault.
Manly's Dylan Walker faces domestic violence charges on February 26. Wests Tigers' Zane Musgrove is in court next month for aggravated indecent assault.
Any hope the new season would bring a fresh start, a chance to leave behind the "train wreck" that was summer, in the words of NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg, were swiftly dealt with on Tuesday.
Perhaps that is a good thing.
For some time now the NRL has been lumbering towards the summer just gone.
Soft penalties, a culture of denial and an over-sensitivity to criticism, all in some misguided endeavour to win public favour from a game already under pressure, have contributed to a gradual lessening of standards that culminated in the summer just gone.
Something needed to happen, and something has.
There is a new posse in town.
Soon after police raided the stables of Victorian horse trainer Darren Weir last month Racing NSW chief executive boss Peter V'Landys, who stands on the Australian Rugby League Commission, was swift in his assessment of Weir's case.
"No individual's interest," he said, "should outweigh the confidence of the public in the integrity and welfare of the industry."
It was swift and decisive ... and yet hardly NRL.
I read this on the morning it appears and think, This is going to be interesting. How does V'Landys' tough and correct stance on Weir stack up against the NRL's notoriously slow, weak and highly inconsistent decision making of recent years?
The answer emerged soon after. Greenberg labelled the summer a train wreck.
At this time he was lobbed the perfect free hit. Ben Barba was filmed on CCTV getting physically violent with his wife and was quickly sacked and banned from the game.
V'Landys' compulsion that a sport must value its integrity and welfare above all else is being supported by ARL Commissioner Peter Beattie who, in clear terms, has told Greenberg to fix it.
It is the beginning of a long road back that, for the first time since its formation in 2012, allows NRL fans to have a little confidence in the ARL Commission and NRL management.
Next week Greenberg will meet with the Full Stop Foundation chief executive Karen Willis with the hope of reigniting a partnership that has faltered in recent years, largely through the indifference within the NRL.
The Full Stop Foundation is an arm of NSW Rape and Domestic Violence and deals with 20,000 phone calls a year from abuse victims.
Ms Willis once worked closely with the NRL.
On Tuesday, as she sat in her office while staff continued taking calls in the sealed rooms behind her, Ms Willis went to the heart of the NRL's problems and the widespread frustration among many fans who ask why the players are not properly educated and continue to infringe.
"It's not educational, it's cultural," she said.
There were never more true words said.
When she first began working with the NRL in 2004, she said, the senior players sat at the back of the room and, if their disinterest was not obvious enough, turned their chairs towards the windows at the side.
The following year, same thing.
By the third year, though, she noticed a change. The returning senior players were sitting towards the front, among the group.
More, there were times they pulled up the younger players and first-timers and told them they better listen.
For reasons nobody knows the NRL went in a different direction some years back.
Greenberg, thankfully, will looked to reunite the relationship next week. It is the first step in a new, no-nonsense direction from the game's boss.
Ms Willis believes protocols put back in place can help identify the at-risk players and will have the potential to get players help before they might actually infringe.
Culture is a popular word within NRL clubs, repeated so casually some have lost all idea of its actual meaning.
Culture is driven by the coaches and senior players. Unfortunately, they can also be the hardest to persuade.
In all her time working with the NRL Ms Willis has had an invitation to talk to the players from just one coach, Wayne Bennett, when he was at St George Illawarra.
It is going to be tough, though.
Already one NRL club, promising that if they get him help and, this old chestnut, "get him in the right environment", has asked the NRL about the possibility of re-registering Barba.
That they desperately need a fullback was not disclosed.