By STEVE MASCORD
IT was (simply) the best of times … it was the worst of times.
Let’s have a look at the last four days in rugby league. Monday: Ottawa Aces are launched to kick off in League 1 next year and two Canterbury Bulldogs players are involved in a sex scandal in Port Macquarie. Tuesday: New York City Rugby League is launched and a game is set to be played behind closed doors because of coronavirus. Wednesday: Toronto finally wins a game in 2020 and the coach admits they don’t have the players to stay up. Thursday: The NRL season opens with what was almost the first tryless game 27 years.
When this columnist moved on from his job as a rugby league roundsman in Sydney, he was fond of telling people he “didn’t want to spend the rest of my life asking 23-year-olds about their hamstrings”.
But here I am writing about rugby league and there is not a hamstring in sight. Instead, it’s gender relations, big business, media…. and a pandemic.
As is well documented, society has now split into a two big echo-chambers – right and left – and off each is innumerable echo meeting rooms and boudoirs. Everything we consume, from hamstring injury stories to more pressing or etherial issues, now has to pass through this maze.
Rugby league expansion in Great Britain is broadly in the left chamber and those at the very centre of the right will deride it any any turn. But in the anterooms off each chamber is where things get interesting.
Ottawa have an RFL license – the one that previously resided in Hemel – and have been accepted to next year’s League 1 competition. No-one seems quite sure where the money is coming from but Eric Perez has done it all before and this seems to buy him time and trust.
The fact their presser was on OurLeague, the Rugby Football League’s official app, underscores the endorsement of the governing body.
New York City put on a very positive and ambitious media conference the following day at the British Music Experience on the Liverpool Waterfront. They have not yet been accepted by the RFL but have decided to go an extremely bullish route by contracting players next year as Barbarians-style team which – among other opposition – intended to take on three NRL teams in February.
Sky pundit Brian Carney doesn’t believe it.
“I will swim to New York, carrying a barrel of shark food behind me if any of that happens next year,” Carney said on Sky Sports News.
Any of it? If one NRL team does play in New York, are we checking Google maps for tides and currents?
Unfortunately since we now live in this world of echo chambers, Carney’s comments are seen by some as being anti-expansionist. But Melbourne (and perhaps now Toronto) is the only successful true full-time pro rugby league expansion franchise since 1895. Dozens have failed.
(The likes of New Zealand Warriors and Catalans Dragons are merely big clubs in cross-border leagues for regions which already played host to lots and lots of rugby league activity).
Carney is right to be cynical, then. History suggests very little of what has been promised will actually eventuate.
We don’t know who the backers of the NYC club are, they don’t appear to have paid their RFL bond yet, they haven’t been cleared for entry to the system in 2022.
At this point it is important to point out the draw for the next round of the Challenge Cup is going to be in the Big Apple – so the RFL clearly wants them.
People like Brian and myriad other players, journalists, officials, agents, referees and hot dog men within rugby league interact every day with each other; their opinions don’t appear out of thin air. You can’t always say where you got certain “impressions” but have a think about the people you work with and the general perceptions about projects in your area of expertise.
Your opinions on the circles you move in are always educated, to a degree. It’s down to your personal judgement, what weight you give the things you are told.
I thought everything on Tuesday was first rate. You can’t tell the fate of a franchise by attending its launch – and I’ve attended plenty of them over the years. I hope both franchises announced at the start of the week do exactly what they say they’re going to do.
Alleged misbehaviour by a Bulldogs player or players coincided roughly with the start of Todd Greenberg’s reign as NRL CEO and – if you believe what you read in some places- like Halleys Comet they’ve come back for the end.
I believed Greenberg’s involvement in the Ben Barba saga in the middle of the last decade should have counted against him in getting the game’s top job.
But I don’t think the NRL’s 2020 advertising campaign or it’s progressive politics should count against him keeping it.
There’s not much to say about Corey Harawira-Naera and Jayden Okunbor that hasn’t already been said.
But sometimes I feel people get left behind by evolving community values and, like Harvey Weinstein at his sentencing, are left just lashing out at what they see as inconsistency and hypocrisy.
Plenty of my colleagues might have thought to write this but perhaps thought better of it so I will: in an era not that long ago – that occupied by most of my time covering the sport – some of this behaviour was exactly what attracted young men to being in football teams.
In this sweeping statement, I will exclude picking up sexual partners during school visits. I don’t know of any previous instances of this happening.
But many people joined football teams the same reason they joined bands – the potential thrill of unbridled and casual relationships while on the road.
The important thing to understand now is that there is a relatively new concept at play in gender relationships that means even consent does not absolve you after the fact. It’s called power imbalance. If you are older, richer, more famous, etc then society will judge you to have acted badly – regardless of consent.
The days described above are gone, long gone.
Plus, footy teams aren’t allowed to have people back to their rooms anymore while on ‘work’ trips, which as Catharine Lumby points out is a higher standard than most people in most other work environments are held to.
Which brings us to Coronavirus.
One of our echo meeting rooms, inhabited by many, suggests that the whole thing is a hoax by the illuminati and is being used to control us using chem trails. 5G telephone signals will then control us, using the inoculations we are given for this non-existent disease.
Of course, right?
On Twitter today, I saw the head of a record label ask people to go out if they are not sick and support local businesses. That’s all well and good – but if you can spread the disease before you have symptoms … then you’re “well” and bad.
Should the season be suspended?
Er …. so what’s happening with that damn hamstring of yours?