Sport Rugby League Matthew Elliott: Crack down on anti-social behaviour, but keep the niggle

Matthew Elliott: Crack down on anti-social behaviour, but keep the niggle

The Broncos David Fifita gets home on the field, but he's yet to get out of jail in Bali. Photo: Getty
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The NRL says it will be introducing a clear mandate around consequences for poor player behaviour after what was a complete train wreck last offseason.

This a positive thing for the game.

The provisions to be introduced have the backing of the clubs and will move the responsibility of adjudication entirely to the NRL Integrity Unit.

Complete clarity has been established around consequences for breach of conduct, with penalties to be based on player income and severity of the incident.

The wellbeing strategy the NRL has been implementing across clubland provides the balance. It aims to get players to understand behavioural expectations when they sign on the dotted line.

They are being paid to bring their best on and off the field.

The game has found to its detriment that the negative impacts of poor conduct by NRL players is amplified far more than other members of the community.

These players are not anonymous tradies who will not be recognised if there is a distasteful incident.

This isn’t right or wrong. This is a reality that every individual who decides to sign an NRL contract needs to be prepared for and understand their responsibilities.

Equally, this is something that offers an upside.

Players have a chance to use their profile for good deeds.

The programs that players like Joel Thompson and Josh Dugan are doing in the community is having a massively inspirational effect for those who are touched by their work.

The unfortunate reality is that these contributions are not as newsworthy as poor behaviour. This is the world we live in.

The NRL’s strong stance is exactly what is needed at this time, but it must also be separated from the day-to-day argy bargy of tough competition footy.

The rivalry and open grudges we witnessed going into the Souths and Broncos game last Friday is exactly what needs to be encouraged by the game to generate interest in the media and passion around contests.

Anthony Seibold teeing off on Wayne Bennett’s lack of evolution of the Rabbitohs attack and Bennett’s assistant returning serve was fun to witness. When the players got involved it became really interesting.

Anthony Seibold’s antics helped promote the game. Photo: Getty

Some may say that such open tension is not ideal, but rivalry is what the game is about. No one got hurt, but the game was keenly anticipated.

It also led to some real intensity on the field and the game delivered for everyone.

The creation of this type of rivalry is not new in American sport and is something that would certainly be embraced by NRL fans.

Coaches in the NFL are encouraged by the peak body to not only talk up their teams but have a crack at their opposition.

Having had access to NFL coaches while doing sabbaticals in the past, they all know this.

At their pre-season coaches’ conferences all agree to embrace this and not to take it personally if one of their numbers takes a chip at them.

One of the results has been increased attendances and television ratings as the media and public lap it up.

As vital as it is to sort out the off-field behavioural issues that the game has encountered, it is important that the game remains edgy and tough.

A bit of jabbing before games does the trick nicely.

Former St George player, Matthew Elliott has coached NRL teams Canberra, Penrith and New Zealand Warriors