When You Want Something Done You Go Straight to the Top

Filed in Other by on December 6, 2010

It was not what you would call your traditional Valentine’s Day. This year, there was no flowers, no chocolates, no public displays of affection. Not in any physical sense, at any rate. Most poets would not have defined the day as romantic. Most Hallmark executives would take a similar position.

They, of course, do not understand true love and genuine affection. Nor do most, I guess, and I am no exception. I can, however, sense the spark and I do have a full appreciation for that which is special. Hence, a life devoted to rugby league. Plenty of love comes, plenty of love goes, plenty of love can leave you bleeding like a fox in the snow. And all the while rugby league is there, as sure as time and as giving as a broken vending machine. There is no winter without rugby league. Not in these parts, anyway.

So it seemed entirely natural, to me at any rate, that your ever-faithful author would spend Valentine’s Day with the man who runs the greatest game of all. Remembering yesterday, planning tomorrow, promises and commitments and The Common Goal. The core essence of Valentine’s Day was alive and well.

David Gallop and I met last Thursday morning to discuss the pertinent issues. It was a meeting of minds, a conference for the betterment of rugby league. There was no business, no self-interest. It was a frank and honest discussion between two gentlemen, two scholars, two bespectacled warriors with a certain fondness for rugby league.

There was plenty on the table and plenty to digest. And in his large corner office at NRL headquarters, we talked like adults, as I had previously suggested in some email correspondence that I would describe as standard and Mr. Gallop called “somewhat aggressive”. But this was only an issue of tone and was soon sorted out with a laconic handshake and some quiet pleasantries.

Of course, at times, there was a divergence of outlook. But the meeting was held in the utmost civility.  

There was a difference of opinion over the twilight Grand Final and the removal of daytime semi-finals in weeks two and three of the finals series. We progressed to a rather hard-headed argument over the merits and failings of the current top eight finals system and the previous set-up. The old system is far superior to the current format. Each game has meaning and the participants are aware of the ramifications of victory and defeat. The structure is more logical, all games in week one are important and there is no kink in the format that would allow teams three and four to be eliminated and teams five and six to win a week off. Whilst I am entirely correct on the issue, I fear there will be no change anytime soon. One of us is but a humble writer, the other the boss of the NRL. At this point in time, I am not the boss of the NRL.

There was a welcoming conversation on some rules and game-time procedures, most of which have infuriated genuine rugby league fans for many seasons. Taking notes, Gallop listened intently about the need to remove referees interpretation of intent from the rule book. The consequences of not doing so will be a fanbase who will require constant psychiatric assistance in their twilight years. The inequity in the machinations of the gameclock was also raised. The only solution to ensure the game is operated in the same manner from minute one to minute eighty is to stop the clock at all dead-ball plays.

Recommendations were made on how to improve the salary cap, mid-season player movement, the season length, coverage of the National Youth Competition and the NRL website. All appear to have been well-received. Discussions on rugby league gambling were also fruitful with the idea of public injury reports to seemingly be genuinely considered. Transparency was the argument and not too many tend to argue against transparency.

Overall, it can only be said that David Gallop was a gentleman and an intelligent one at that. He has made mistakes, his disgraceful handling of the 2002 Bulldogs one such instance. But we all have and he has certainly performed better than any of his predecessors. There is little doubt in my mind that David Gallop has a firm grip on things and I don’t offer such an assessment lightly.

The same can no longer be said of Malcolm Noad, however. His power and privilege has dissipated rather quickly and it won’t be long before he is nothing but a ghost, an ornament to unpleasant times.

Last Sunday, the rebel ticket was swept to power at the Bulldogs football club board election. All bar leader Graeme Hughes were elected, the promise of a new dawn resonating loudly in the air. It was a victory for common sense and decency and success. It was also a victory for Making The Nut, the full endorsement of Canterbury’s most loyal son enough for many to vote for change.

Dr George Peponis has called for peace but he is too smart to realise that the bloodshed is far from over. Any student of history is aware that the first flashpoint is rarely the last. If you leave your enemy breathing, he will be back. Going for the jugular is a useful directive, not just a pithy phrase.

Graeme Hughes may have missed out on election but do not think for one hot second the last has been seen of him. All, it would seem, is in accordance with the blueprint. He was number seven and last on the rebel ticket for a reason. Hughes covets the CEO position far more than a seat on the board and will soon call on his selflessness to be repaid. His fellow travelers will go through the motions of a performance review or some such charade that will legitimize the slaughter. The head of Noad will then be placed in the Bulldogs board room, on the wall behind the chairman, as a deterrent against possible disloyalty and a constant reminder of who wields the sword of power.

The others will be allowed greater dignity but the will of the rebels will be imposed. Steven Folkes will be allowed to serve out the season but it is an inevitability that he will be replaced by Wayne Bennett. The wheels are already in motion on that front. Peter Cassilles, the only board member loyal to the old regime, will be allowed to remain on the proviso of silence. George Peponis will be given the opportunity to enforce the orders of the new powerbase. All other staff will be afforded the chance of switching their loyalty.

There will be no second chances. Mercy does not flow like wine out Canterbury way these days.

And nor should it, in times of such division. Only the strong and the smart survive in this game. David Gallop knows that. And soon Malcolm Noad will.

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