MITCHELL Pearce doesn’t strike me as the type of bloke to bear a grudge. Nonetheless he is entitled to be keeping a close eye on the NRL’s handling of the Canterbury Mad Monday debacle, while wondering if the same rules will apply.
It was more than two seasons ago that Pearce was involved in a well-documented incident involving a small, fluffy dog, which presumably he has regretted ever since.
The reaction was brutal and the ramifications were harsh.
After consultation between his then club, the Roosters, and the NRL’s powers-that-be, Pearce was fined $125,000 ($50,000 of which was suspended), stood down for the first eight games of season 2016, and stripped of the captaincy.
Moreover, the drama cost Pearce, the incumbent NSW Origin halfback, any chance of representing the Blues in that year’s interstate series. At match payments of $30,000 an Origin, that’s another 90 grand he was out of pocket.
At the time, there was precious little sympathy for one of the game’s most-maligned playmakers. The sneaky iPhone video, for which various media outlets paid five-figure sums, was admittedly a train wreck.
Pearce was highly intoxicated and behaved accordingly, yet how bad in reality was his conduct?
At a private premises and evidently in a party atmosphere, he left upon request (albeit reluctantly) after managing to offend his hosts. No criminal charges or complaints from members of the general public were forthcoming.
Without condoning his antics, I ask you to compare them with the Bulldogs’ Mad Monday celebrations at the Harbour View Hotel in The Rocks this week.
At least two players, Adam Elliott and Asipeli Fine, were snapped dancing nude by a Daily Telegraph photographer, who also captured images of winger Marcelo Montoya vomiting in the street and then passing out.
Despite suggestions that Canterbury officials had booked a roped-off area of the pub for what they insisted was a private function, to suggest the Telegraph had no right to take the pictures, from a distant vantage point with a telephoto lens, is nothing but shooting the messenger.
If the Bulldogs had not put themselves in such an incriminating position, there would have been no photos to take in the first place.
Elliott and Fine have since been charged by police with wilful and obscene exposure, and a third player, lower-grader Zac Woolford, received a $660 infringement notice for “offensive conduct”. The licensee was hit with five penalty notices.
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg immediately outlined swift retribution for what he rightfully labelled “idiotic” behaviour.
Canterbury copped a $250,000 fine – the largest ever imposed on a club for player misconduct –after not only organising the booze-up, but admitting that coach Dean Pay and other staff were in attendance.
The Bulldogs fined the two nudists both $25,000 ($10,000 suspended), Montoya $10,000 ($5000 suspended) and Woolford $10,000 ($5000 suspended).
Whether or not that is the full extent of the sanctions remains to be seen. It has been reported the NRL has entrusted Canterbury with imposing disciplinary measures, but the governing body would be expected to intervene if these were too lenient.
So at this point, the only confirmed punishment dished out to Elliott and Fine has been $15,000 apiece, plus whatever comes their way when they front Downing Centre court on October 24.
There were suggestions that Fine might be stood down from Canterbury’s NSW Cup team this weekend, but it is unclear if he or Elliott will miss a single NRL game next year.
All of which suggests Pearce was rather hard-done-by. For that matter, so too Paul Gallen, fined $50,000 (reduced to $35,000) on appeal for firing a C-bomb at NRL management on Twitter in 2015.
While there has been no shortage of umbrage and outrage emanating from NRL HQ this week, credibility and consistency appear in short supply.
If Pearce had to spend eight weeks on the sidelines for his faux pas, then surely Elliott and Fine should be facing suspensions of at least equivalent duration.
Coach Pay, who by all accounts was also somewhere in the nearby proximity, deserves to be called to account as well.
As for fining the Bulldogs $250,000, what sort of deterrent is that to a club which routinely forks out such sums for its players to ply their trade for rival teams?
If the NRL is serious about sending a message to all clubs, then as well as suspending players, it should impose a competition-points penalty on Canterbury for next season.
A line in the sand is needed. Mad Monday – once regarded as a harmless “boys will be boys” lark – has become a recurring embarrassment that drags rugby league’s reputation through the sewer. Every drunken clown manages to overshadow and tarnish the efforts of fine ambassadors like Johnathan Thurston and Trent Hodkinson.
Let the players have a drink, and get as silly as they like. But keep them off the streets and out of the pubs.
And for those who transgress, penalise them according to what they have done, not who they are.