This article was first written and published for The Roar.
You can say plenty of things about current Commissioner of the Australian Rugby League Commission, Peter Beattie, but one thing you can’t accuse him of is being unwilling to listen to the views of fans.
Since Beattie has joined the ARL Commission and since taking over as Commissioner from John Grant, one thing that he has been very good at doing has been interacting with fans, particularly over social media.
Simply ask him a question, attend one of the ‘town-halls’ that him and NRL CEO Todd Greenberg hold regularly before games or send him a tweet – and chances are he will respond to you. I also think he can be quite funny and he certainly isn’t afraid to put a troll in its place if need be.
But what this active social media presence has also done is given us, as fans, a bit more insight into the inner workings of the Commission and particularly a bit more visibility on what the Commission’s focuses are.
For example, at the Commission meeting held prior to Christmas (and in the wake of the alleged incidents involving Jarryd Hayne and Dylan Walker), Beattie announced that the Commission would undertake an audit of how club leaders handle off-field incidents. He also announced that Commissioner Megan Davis would do an additional piece of work – an audit of the current education and wellbeing programs focused on violence against women conducted via the NRL and through its community partners like the Full Stop Foundation, and the clubs themselves.
Speaking of that training, it is my understanding that each club will be participating in training run by the Full Stop Foundation this preseason, which seems very timely.
In the upcoming 28 February Commission meeting, it has been signalled that player behaviour will also be a priority and particularly the way players are dealt with who have been charged with a crime.
At the moment, the current policy allows players who make a not-guilty plea to continue training and playing alongside a presumption of innocence.
This presumption of innocence is of paramount importance. But, in the wake of recent incidents, there are questions as to whether this policy remains appropriate – particularly following some of the strong commentary by club chairs such as Marina Go from the Wests Tigers and Bart Campbell from the Melbourne Storm, who both indicated the dramatic impact that this off-season has had.
Dramatic is a kind way of putting it; it has been a train wreck.
But player behaviour is not the only issue which our game needs to reflect on. There are countless others.
So my question to all of you, is what other issues should be on the agenda for the next Commission meeting?
I hope some strategic focus is given to the international game and the role of the NRL in growing it, particularly among some of our neighbours in the Pacific like Tonga, Samoa and Papua New Guinea.
Over the last couple of years we have seen a shift in focus and greater importance placed on international rugby league through fixtures in Denver, the Test match between Tonga and the Australian Kangaroos last year and the introduction of an International Nines tournament which is set to be played at the new Bankwest Stadium at the conclusion of the season.
This is all positive, but there are still times throughout the year where because of the way the draw falls and the focus on the NRL premiership, that international rugby league still feels like an afterthought.
A good example was this morning’s World Club Challenge (although the fact that this game is played at 6am AEST doesn’t help) and also that the Representative Round still doesn’t garner the same excitement and passion as State of Origin – although it’s getting there.
I would like to see the international game celebrated and anticipated in the same way that State of Origin is. I want a ticket to the Pacific Test to be as valuable a ticket as a State of Origin one.
But for this to happen, Australia needs to continue to lead the way and also push the other emerging nations forward, so international rugby league is competitive and exciting to watch.
The Australian Kangaroos winning each fixture, despite being very good for Aussie fans, I believe is a detriment to the interest in international rugby league going forward.
A topic of conversation that Todd Greenberg also seems to have some interest in at the moment is expansion. I would be interested to understand the strategy behind the NRLs plans for expansion and if there is even appetite to expand in Australia or to relocate a team.
Late last year, Todd was asked by the Commission to consider what the long term future of the game looks like, with confirmation from Todd that the NRL is interested in bringing additional content to Brisbane and Queensland.
Whilst the idea of relocating a club doesn’t seem to have much momentum behind it, this is rugby league and things can change very quickly.
But it’s not just the men’s game where there is an opportunity to expand.
At the moment, the strategy around the Women’s NRL Premiership seems to be more of the same in 2019 (i.e. four teams that play each other once) but potentially there will be an opportunity to expand in 2020.
Over to you Roarers, what else is pressing in our game at the moment that the Commissioners need to think about?