This article was first written for and published by The Roar.
At the beginning of the season, I promised myself that I wouldn’t fall for any rugby league clickbait.
Is it too early to admit that I’ve failed, after reading an article about Cameron Smith promoted by Fox League?
The outlet reported that there was widespread criticism of Smith by key administrators across the game following his comments that the season should be postponed given the evolving COVID-19 situation.
Smith made these comments after the Storm’s win against the Sea Eagles, stating that what is happening globally right now is bigger than rugby league and has an impact which is more far-reaching than just the players.
When did it become cool, as a rugby league fan, to disagree with everything Smith says? Every time he does or says anything, he seems to be criticised.
One of the most challenging parts of the ongoing situation is that it is touching every part of society. Things we love like sport, the arts and social gatherings are being cancelled for the foreseeable future.
These things bring joy, so in an already grim global situation, it is challenging to find the silver lining.
At the time of writing, the NRL has committed to playing Round 2, despite the potential that a player or staff member associated with one of the clubs contracts the virus.
While a small part of me is thrilled that I have rugby league for at least one more week, the bigger part of me recognises the ongoing risk associated with this position and the ask on our players to keep playing.
The Warriors have been away from home for over a week. How are their families juggling their various commitments without the support of husbands, fathers, brothers and sons?
There have been talks about moving the competition to Townsville or Darwin. Is it fair that we ask our players to be away for so long?
It isn’t just about the players either, it is the many support and coaching staff who travel with the team too.
How many have elderly people in their lives? Or those with a compromised immune system? Is footy worth the risk?
Some club bosses have spoken about the financial impacts suspending the season will have and criticised Smith – who is nearing the end of his career – for not thinking about younger players.
Of course, there is a huge economic risk associated with what is going on now. But rugby league is not the only sport or industry impacted.
The value of the travel and entertainment industries have essentially been wiped overnight. Casual workers and freelancers are in precarious situations. There is fear of a global recession and many people are worried about their jobs.
What would have been useful in this situation is money put to the side for a rainy day. I wonder whether the NRL has any of this, given the recent announcements about surpluses.
Some have suggested that the angst over Smith’s comments is that he has outwardly disagreed with the position publicly communicated by the NRL.
Since when do we slam players for having the courage to speak out openly and honestly? Maybe don’t answer that.
My bigger question is where is the Rugby League Players Association (RLPA)? Their voice should be one of the loudest at the moment.
Surely Smith is saying what many others feel – maybe even what some junior players are too afraid to say. I find it hard to believe that the players are all united in continuing the competition.
Addin Fonua-Blake fronted training on Tuesday wearing a face mask. He won’t be the last player to do this, particularly as cases across the country rise.
My hope is that the RLPA is liaising closely with our players and is in close conversation with the NRL about the ongoing situation.
Potentially, should the NRL continue, might we give players an option as to whether they would like to keep playing or not?
But for the moment, let’s lay off Cameron Smith.
Because there is no rugby league without our players and clubs, and the health of our players and the people at our clubs has to be the priority.
These are unprecedented times and I don’t blame anyone for wanting to look after their family first.