Up Front with Tony Butterfield

The koalas of rugby league pull in millions from the players annually.

Reason enough perhaps that some NRL player agents continue to thumb their noses at the players’ association, the NRL and the junior system.

DOLLARS AND SENSE: Rugby league player agents make millions from the game every year, yet the NRL has little hope of policing them.

DOLLARS AND SENSE: Rugby league player agents make millions from the game every year, yet the NRL has little hope of policing them.

Looking back, despite knowing better, those influencing the make-up of the currrent agent-accreditation entity, when first constituted in 2006, were compromised.

At the time, the NRL leadership didn’t need the potential legal headache nor risk their cosy alignment in the long campaign to undermine a nascent players’ association. The players’ association’s new leadership, meanwhile, had endured enough difficulties over the previous six years and accepted anything that would bring about peace and progress: “We can fix it up later.”

Well, now, is later. 

Why? The Parramatta salary cap dramas are an open wound for the game, largely due to inaction caused by a risk paralysis at committee level, and the aforementioned compromised birth. 

Plenty of heads rolled in Eels club land over the incident, but apparently only one lone agent is to “show cause”,  though the jungle drums had others up to their necks in it. 

Particularly galling, I would think, for players. When they step out of line, it’s all over the news. But not these guys.

In the case of the mysterious player agents, many of whom work for the same agencies, the game has an effectively anonymous committee to govern and determine breaches of their rules and de-registration matters.

This includes two seats for the agents, with all done under a cloak of confidentiality through rules the players’ association are seeking to repair.

You see, the agent-accreditation committee was established as an initiative by past players dissatisfied with this unregulated space. In a move causing problems now, the NRL hijacked negotiations, insisting it exist independently outside the complex contractual arrangements that bind the NRL, the NRL clubs and the players.

As such, enforcing what look like adequate rules against what look like agent co-ops is like throwing Alice down the rabbit hole. Unless the ARL Commission offers some legal indemnity, or bring them under the game’s governance structure, it will always be thus.

In circumstances where more and more players are represented by fewer and bigger agencies, where a potential for conflict of interest arises prima facie when, in a salary cap environment, they represent two or more players at a club (or possibly the coach), and where the NRL must move to uphold the confidence of the public in a system that presides over our young and inexperienced players, this current set-up needs to be fixed. 

The powerful agents will move to block reform and greater accountability, with lawyers, no doubt, close at hand. But the good ones know the current iteration has no teeth nor public confidence.

These guys, I’m told, genuinely seek improved standards as much as they do the degree of legitimacy conferred from a robust regulatory and enforcement regime. Because that ain’t what we’ve got at the moment. The rules are robust but the structure doesn’t work. Just as it was set up to do. 

* A SOBERING interview between retiring referee champion Matt Chechen and the SMH’s Andrew Webster last week. It was a chance for us all to reconsider our almost culturally accepted and all-too-easy criticism of the guy with the whistle.

The pressure on and off the field was too much, he said. Social media and death threats had gone too far. In short, you can’t pay him enough to cop the crap that comes with being a top official in Australian league. Sad. 

Death threats and the like to one side, it may be more so that everyday fans are responding to the myriad rule changes and mandated interpretation vagaries, rather than to any personal dislike of the easy target.

Nonetheless, as we run into the finals at senior and junior level, we should respect Matt’s contribution and spare a thought for the guys in charge. While the players play for the cup, the refs accept their poisoned chalice and want nothing but a good, fair game that the players decide.

Give ’em a go!

* THE cliffhanger at Shark Park last week was settled by a show-and-go field goal beauty by Manly skipper Daly Cherry-Evans.

His second golden-point clincher this season, it was again settled faking to the right before breaking to the left for the free shot. He fooled everyone except wily Wade Graham, whose heads-up charge nearly shut it down. The great Andrew Johns never did it, so its rarity had him in media demand post-game. 

And it’s here his comments in response to praise is important to all everyone: “Practice. Plenty of practice”. No self-modesty. All hard work.

With the Rafferty’s Rules applied to golden point periods these days, necessity was the mother of invention as he painstakingly developed a solution. Good on him.

* For mine, The Issac Luke factor is the biggest threat to a Knights’ win across the “dutch” on Friday night.

Shaun Johnson  and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck are amazing talents in their own right, but the opportunities they thrive on are only available courtesy of the best all-round hooker/dummy-half in the world at the moment.

His presence at home spells trouble for the tourists. Against that, the Knights, even though plagued with injuries to key players, should not fear the Warriors. 

Rather, catch them a little complacent and drive home the advantage. Remember, it’s against committed and unsettling defence that the Warriors have built their reputation for self-destruction.

Turn up the heat, boys, or the Auckland posse could ride roughshod. Knights by two.