Sending Michael Jennings to the bin was the correct call

This article was first written and published for the Roar.

When the Parramatta Eels scored their third try yesterday against the Penrith Panthers to make the score line 14-0, I had a devastating feeling of déjà vu.

In the exact same game in the exact same round last year that Parramatta got out to the same lead. Then Mitchell Moses was sent to the sin bin just before half time, the two teams went into the sheds and when the Eels came back for the second half they capitulated.

The off-field impact that the NRL can be proud of

This article was first written for NRL.com. 

With the footy officially back, I’m counting down the days until I can get to Parramatta’s first home game of the season. I’ve been a member of the club for 11 years and for the most part, have sat with the same group of people during that whole time. The people I sit with at games have become my rugby league family and we have shared some dizzying highs and devastating lows both on the field but also off it too.

My footy family come from many different walks of life. We have grown up in different parts of the world. We come from different cultural backgrounds. We are different ages. But what has brought us together is our love of rugby league and in particular, our love of the Parramatta Eels. But for this game, I almost certainly would never have crossed paths with these people.

Often it’s very easy to only think about rugby league as a sport that happens on the field. But it’s this ability to bring people together that sets rugby league, and sport apart from many other pursuits. At its core, rugby league is more than just a game. It’s a community and communities look after each other.

Today, the NRL has released its Social Impact Report for 2018. This is the third report of its kind.

The report demonstrates the many ways in which the NRL community has looked after and cared for thousands of individuals throughout the last year. It highlights the programs that the NRL delivers each year. These programs, being Voice Against Violence, NRL State of Mind, In League in Harmony and School to Work are strongly supported by our NRL players, the clubs and some of the NRL’s major sponsors and have been delivered not just across Australia in the past year, but also in Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga.

Make or break for NRL as game attempts to repair reputation

This article was first written for and published by The Guardian

Last week the NRL launched the 2019 season in Sydney with 16 club captains, a box-full of fireworks and one slogan: “A New Era”. Given the horrific off-season the league has just endured, it’s not hard to see why those three words are being pushed as the new campaign’s tag line.

There can be no sugarcoating it; the game has lurched from one disaster to another since the curtain fell on last season, as a string of serious allegations have been levelled against players including assault, rape and the filming and dissemination of intimate content.

The Away Supporter

This article was written by Melissa Muscat.

Given how much of a diehard supporter I am of live sport, most notably football and rugby league, I’ve been to very few away games interstate, until recently. And I didn’t realise what I was missing.

In January this year I visited the last state I was yet to see in Australia, Western Australia. I’m not going to lie, I based the timing of the trip around the Sydney FC schedule and school holidays, originally not to miss a home game but was then pleasantly surprised to see Perth were playing Sydney around the time I was going. That swayed my decision to book in early January. I base my entire social calendar all year long around my sporting schedule. When I say my, I mean my teams, Sydney FC and The Parramatta Eels.

I have to say that my first trip to Perth and in particular NIB stadium was a fabulous and memorable one. Such a picturesque stadium and the people, like in all of Perth, were so pleasant. I travelled solo and as I took my seat in the away bay on game day, a security guard came over to advise where the facilities were and that if I felt unsafe at any time, he and the other guards were at the back of the bay. It’s the little things that make wherever you go a positive experience. I thought that was something else. The home fans were passionate but likable. At no stage did I feel intimidated as an away supporter there solo.

Maybe I interrupted the peace at the very end when I couldn’t resist a photo opportunity with some striking cardboard cutouts of the Perth Glory players. They looked great so I decided to throw my Sydney FC scarf around the one of Ante Franjic to get a cheeky snap. The locals didn’t appreciate that but still, it was nothing other than a good laugh. I think I was forgiven when I congratulated the Glory fans on their win and informed them because of such a pleasant experience, I may now have Perth in my top three A League teams. I even got a round of applause emoji off Franjic on Twitter, stating that when there is good banter, it needs to be applauded. Relief I didn’t upset anybody!

The second interstate match which I attended recently was the now annual A League Fixture, the Big Blue in Melbourne on Australia Day. The fierce rivalry between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory, brings so much passion to this game between both the teams and the supporters, it’s exciting and nerve racking at the same time. I will say though, that the home fans aren’t as welcoming to Sydney FC supporters. Which I assumed, but felt the full extent of when I visited AAMI Park for a second consecutive year. It doesn’t bother me too much, especially given I have travel companions when visiting Melbourne, as long as things don’t get violent or too hostile. Football supporters take the game very seriously, especially Melburnians and possibly from their point of view, there is no room for friendly fire, only serious business and to get the job done to collect the vital three points. There is a heightened sense of excitement as an away fan. What the away crowd lacks in numbers, they make up for in volume. Everyone lifts to another level. The Big Blue match is something else. Both fans bring out the best and worst in each other.

My favourite away rugby league game is The Parramatta Eels v Cronulla Sharks in The Shire. Not quite interstate but wonderful because it’s the only week of the season I don’t have to travel an hour to watch my beloved blue and gold. The stadium is approximately an eight minute drive from home. I love this game so much that I am planning a European trip around that fixture. Originally planning to leave the first week of June, do I now leave a week before the match, or hold out one more week to watch my favourite game of the season, then fly out the next day? That’s the dilemma I’m currently facing.

I’ve enjoyed the interstate away experience so much that I am determined to get to an Eels game somewhere else in Australia this year. Parra have launched a Women in League jersey for the first time in quite a few years. 200 lucky female members will have their name printed on the Eels jersey against the Gold Coast Titans in round 22. As a member of 10 years, I’m not sure I’ll make the cut as I know there are many passionate female Eels members out there, and have been for a lot longer than me. If I do though, I think that will be my interstate away match of the season. If not, then possibly Suncorp Stadium needs to head the list. I have only ever heard wonderful reports of that ground.

With the A League finals approaching and the NRL season about to begin, if you’re wondering or have half the opportunity to watch your team interstate, do it. You won’t regret it. Just don’t forget your team colours and your vocal cords. On that note, happy NRL season to all who follow as we begin again Thursday. For the second year in a row, my preseason money is on the Sydney Roosters to take out the premiership. Good luck to all 16 teams but especially my team, the Parramatta Eels.

Cameron Smith’s Cronulla complaint is crying over spilt milk

This article was first written and published for The Roar

Given the difficulties the NRL has had over the off-season, particularly in relation to player behaviour, the challenges that the Cronulla Sharks are facing off the field have, to a large extent, gone unnoticed.

But there are certainly some tough decisions ahead for the team that wear black, white and blue.

Why I can be a feminist and support rugby league

This article was first written for NRL.com.

Today is International Women’s Day; a day where people across the world come together to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It’s also used as a call to action to promote messages about gender diversity, inclusion and the push for parity.

When it comes to diversity and inclusion, sport has been a beacon over the last couple of years as sports fans in Australia have witnessed and been part of a revolution in women’s sport. Now young girls across the country grow up knowing they can pursue a multitude of sports via competitions that are either professional or working towards that status including the WNRL, AFLW, WNBL, WBBL, W-League, Super W and Super Netball.

After a year of progress, here’s what women’s sport needs to work on

This article was first written and published for the Roar.

Today is International Women’s Day, a day where people across the globe come together to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

It is also an opportunity to recognise how far we have come towards gender equality and parity while still acknowledging the work that still needs to be done.

In Australia, we have been fortunate enough to witness and be part of a revolution in women’s sport over the last couple of years.

Tough men don’t share sex videos; weak ones do

This article was first written and published for the Sydney Morning Herald.

As a Parramatta Eels tragic, by March each year I find myself eagerly awaiting the start of a new rugby league season. The previous season’s disappointment has been forgotten and I’ve deluded myself into believing my team can win the Premiership.

This year, as founder of Ladies Who League, I eagerly await footy’s return, but for a different reason; I hope that with its commencement we can turn our attention to the game rather than the happenings of the most distressing, damaging and scandalous off-season our code has ever faced.

Stood down: Panthers playmaker Tyrone May handed himself into police.
Stood down: Panthers playmaker Tyrone May handed himself into police.CREDIT:NRL PHOTOS

Allegations of rape and assault. Sex tapes. Salary cap breaches. This off-season has had it all.

The latest scandal has seen Penrith Panthers player Tyrone May arrested and charged with recording intimate images without consent and disseminating images without consent. May denies the charges and the NRL has stood him down on “no fault” basis, so as not to prejudice his case. There are claims that someone else may have disseminated those videos of May with two women. May’s guilt or innocence will be a matter for the courts.

Does a sex tape make you king of the dressing room?

This article was first written and published for the Roar. 

There are just eleven sleeps until the NRL season starts again and for this I’m very grateful.

Not just because it means footy will be back on my television screen, but also because I’m hopeful that the actual footy will give fans something else to focus on, rather than the raging bin fire that has been the most recent off-season.

There’s no other way to sell it – this off-season the NRL has literally lurched from one disaster to another and I think close to irreparable damage has been done.

Rugby league’s chance to send a message of inclusion

This article was first written and published for NRL.com.

Some say that sport and politics have no place mixing. But my view is these two things are inextricably linked because sport has an ability to bring people together in a way that almost nothing else can and therefore promote community messages, particularly about tolerance and inclusion.

I am almost always proud to call myself a rugby league fan.

When I reflect on all my years of being part of the rugby league family, there are a couple of really special moments that I remember with fondness and which always give me goose bumps when I think about them.

The first is the progress that has been made in the women’s game and some moments from the past year that stand out include when the NRL announced it was launching its women’s competition, the first ever stand-alone State of Origin held at North Sydney Oval and the day that the first game was played in the NRLW last September.

These occasions were all a clear signal that going forward little boys and girls will grow up knowing that both genders can play footy and that there is a clear pathway for women and girls to play rugby league if they want to.

The inaugural NRLW season was a huge step forward.
The inaugural NRLW season was a huge step forward.

The second moment was grand final night in 2017 when Macklemore sang his smash hit ‘Same Love’ in front of a packed ANZ Stadium.

As Macklemore sang, the screens at the ground were illuminated with phrases like ‘we stand for inclusiveness’, ‘we stand for courage’, ‘we stand for diversity’.

That night almost all voices in our game sang in unison, brought together through sport but sending a more important message about tolerance, diversity and inclusion.

These are times when I have been immensely proud of our game and the values which we stand for; excellence, inclusiveness, courage and teamwork.

Broncos legend Wendell Sailor.
Broncos legend Wendell Sailor.

These occasions also reinforced one of my core beliefs about our game – that everyone is welcome and has a place in the rugby league family no matter how they want to participate.

Whilst diversity and inclusion is something that the NRL focuses on and takes very seriously, in the past, I have seen criticism levelled at the NRL for its perceived lack of focus on the LGBTIQ diversity pillar.

Whilst there are clear manifestations of other diversity pillars like gender equality (through the increased presence and role of women throughout the game) and cultural diversity (through the NRL All Stars concept and Indigenous Round), the work being done in the pride space is potentially less overt.

This doesn’t make it of any less importance to the NRL, which last year was recognised as the highest-ranking national sporting organisation by the Pride in Sport Index, which is run by Pride in Sport – a national not-for-profit sporting inclusion program for its work in this space.

If you look closely enough there are several key initiatives the NRL focuses on which led to this ranking.

Part of that work is the NRL’s involvement in Sydney’s most fabulous party of the year – Mardi Gras.

Tomorrow night a group of 60 people representing the rugby league family will march through the streets of Sydney celebrating diversity and inclusion on the NRL’s ‘Pride in League’ float.

When the NRL began its participation five years ago, it made history by being the only national sporting code that had a float in the parade.

Several familiar faces have been part of the festivities before – George Rose, Dene Halatau, Wendell Sailor, Mario Fenech and Jason King.

In 2017, the float was led by Ian Roberts, the only male rugby league player who has identified as gay, and each year the number of people who march grows in size and in voice.

Over the last couple of years, there have been a number of powerful moments across several sports which demonstrates how much attitudes have changed.

Vanessa Foliaki and Karina Brown.
Vanessa Foliaki and Karina Brown.©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

I remember Erin Phillips kissing her partner Tracy when she was awarded the AFLW Players’ Most Valuable Player Award in 2018.

Rugby league has also had one of these moments.

I’ve already mentioned how much last year’s State of Origin meant to me. I remember storming the field at the end of the game with thousands of other fans looking to embrace our Queensland and New South Wales heroines.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Karina Brown and Vanessa Foliaki. Karina plays for Queensland and Vanessa plays for New South Wales. They are also a couple.

Away from the noise and the lights, the couple shared a kiss. I captured it on my iPhone from afar. But photographers were on hand to capture it from up close.

Whilst there was some negativity, overwhelmingly the photo was celebrated as beautiful and inclusive.

When some homophobic comments were made on the NRL’s Facebook page, the NRL’s social media responded ‘welcome to 2018… can’t wait for you to join us!’

We have a spectacular product on the field and our athletes are among some of the most talented in the world – but it’s moments like this and the willingness for the NRL to be a truly inclusive and diverse games which is what makes rugby league the greatest game of all for me.