NRL players' bad behaviour could hit pockets

AARON LAWTON
Last updated 05:04 12/01/2014
Russell Packer
Fairfax Australia
BEHIND BARS: Russell Packer is in the process of appealing his jail sentence.

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League "bad boys" face having to sign good behaviour bonds of up to hundreds of thousands of dollars if they want to stay in the NRL.

Game bosses are sick of scandals involving a few wayward players tarnishing the image of the sport.

Over the years the NRL has been rocked by headline-grabbing cases of first-graders being accused of off-field offences including sexual assaults, alcohol abuse, and physical assaults.

On Monday, former Warriors prop Russell Packer was jailed for two years after he pleaded guilty to assaulting a 22-year-old Aucklander, Enoka Lester Time, in the Sydney CBD in November. Packer is appealing the sentence.

Jim Doyle, a former boss of the New Zealand Rugby League, who now heads the NRL's Integrity Unit, refused to register Packer's four-year contract with the Newcastle Knights in December after reviewing the case.

That decision signalled a hard-line stance from the NRL against players who are deemed to have damaged league's image.

And Doyle, speaking exclusively with Sunday News, revealed the NRL may go even further.

In the past, players have been sacked by clubs for off-field incidents and contract breaches, only to then be signed by rival clubs.

Doyle acknowledges one mistake shouldn't end a player's NRL career.

But under a new proposal, he wants to see repeat offenders put up a good behaviour bond - potentially worth up to $250,000 - that will be forfeited if they bring the game into disrepute again.

"The players themselves . . . are the ones who choose their actions," Doyle told Sunday News.

"If they go out and beat someone up or they get drunk and do something they shouldn't be doing, well, that is them who has chosen that action. That's not us.

"We aren't stopping them from having a career - they themselves are.

"But at the same time, people make mistakes. Hopefully, people learn from their mistakes. So, if you've got a player who has done something they shouldn't have done and got himself in trouble, first and foremost what we want to do is use our player welfare and education department and put them through some sort of programme.

"And if they come out of the programme and everything is fine, we'd certainly consider re-registering them.

"But as part of that re-registration, we might say that given they've tarnished the brand of rugby league in the past, yes it's great you are rehabilitated and we are going to give you a second chance.

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"But of course we can't afford to have them tarnish the brand again, so we might ask for them to put up a significant amount of money as a bond that may sit there for the next year or two. And if they again go back off the rails and get into trouble again, there will be a significant penalty to pay.

"That's an idea rather than having them just say sorry again for the second time."

Doyle, also the NRL's chief operating officer, says bad behaviour by players can have an adverse effect on NRL clubs' finances.

"It's only ever the minority and if it's, say, three or four per cent [of first-graders who misbehave], we would like to get it down to one per cent or half a per cent," Doyle said.

"If you look at the 16 NRL clubs, and I've talked to all the CEOs and the chairmen . . . their biggest challenge is continuously being financially stable.

"So what I keep saying to them is that what will bring them more corporate sponsors and more membership and things like that is their own individual club brand.

"And if the brand of your club is bad and negative because you've got a few idiots that play for your team and you're not willing to penalise them in any way, that has a reflection on your own brand and therefore certain corporates aren't going to want to get involved with your organisation.

"It would be better for us all to eliminate that from the game so that we can bring more families to matches, bring more corporate sponsors to rugby league and get more membership.

"That would make the whole thing better and that right there is a big part of what I do."

Former Kiwis star Tony Kemp, Sunday News' league columnist, said Doyle's good behaviour bond proposal was a major step in the right direction and would act as a deterrent for the minority who got themselves in trouble.

"I agree with this idea, 100 per cent," Kemp said.

"There has been right across the game a lack of accountability. I'm not talking just about players but also player managers and many other people who are associated with the players.

"These people all need to be held accountable. I don't just think the bond should be for the players but player agents as well.

"Some of the consequences [for bad behaviour] in the past have been way too soft."

- Sunday News

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