Kent: NRL on knife edge as players risk it all
Here is the quandary that is rugby league.
ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys wrote to Channel 9 boss Hugh Marks to say the NRL will play a 20-round competition and he hopes Nine will get on board.
It is well known Marks wants a 17-round competition for reasons including he cannot trust that the season will go through uninterrupted, a fear underlined this week with multiple examples of NRL players breaking the state's social distancing rules.
It could take just one to bring the whole season down.
Meanwhile, in another part of town, four players who broke the rules, in spectacular fashion, it must be said, were hit with lukewarm penalties that will do little to discourage further outbreaks.
The NRL harboured a secret fear when coming up with the penalties.
Part of the thinking behind the NRL's light punishment was that the game needs to sell all the stars it can at the moment.
Latrell Mitchell emerged as something of a cult figure last year. Nobody is faster than the Fox, Josh Addo-Carr. Penrith's Nathan Cleary will one day be more popular than both.
Not only did the game want all four on the field to give the game solid star power to sell in this hour of need - it will certainly help the sell to Nine - an unspoken fear was the game does not know how many more players will break the rules over the season and did not want to create a precedent it could not recover from.
If heavy suspensions were hammered home on these four, how many more stars might be sidelined by the end of the season?
Honestly, you would not parent kids this way.
So on the one side V'landys is doing what he is becoming known for; strong leadership and bold decisions, made for the greater good of the game, with some risk.
Marks might refuse and walk out on negotiations altogether.
Who knows where the game goes then, other than to the courthouse.
The game should fight to play as many rounds as it can. The clubs and the game will be far better off financially with each game played.
Marks, understandably, is wary.
He said last month that Nine would save $130 million if it did not televise NRL this season, sending an almighty cheer around his shareholders.
Rugby league fans don't own shares in Nine, obviously.
The fear for Marks is a legitimate one.
If the season returns and he resumes paying several millions dollars a week in broadcast fees and then, somewhere along the line, some player feels he needs a social outbreak and goes rogue and gets infected with the COVID-19 virus, then the season might have to be shut down.
It is almost certain the season won't resume from a second suspension.
So the money spent between here and then, in a season ultimately cancelled through carelessness, would be wasted.
And the last thing any CEO wants to do in this climate is upset shareholders.
So V'landys fights while, behind him, the NRL remains riddled with uncertainty and confusing decisions.
At the same time it admits each case is different, and they make a legitimate case for why the punishments were different (Addo-Carr and Mitchell planned and carried out there camping trip, Tyronne Roberts-Davis ran into them on the beach, Cleary was home when friends arrived), the game also seeks consistency.
A better measure than consistency in behaviour would be to reach a level of consistency in line with public expectation, which would be achieved through greater transparency.
These players have a greater burden than the rest of society and, right now, their game is in the midst of a delicate negotiation that could have a financial impact worth tens of millions of dollars.
Some of it their dollars, and their teammates' dollars.
The game argued Addo-Carr and Mitchell were hit with the highest allowable fine of $50,000. But $30,000 of that won't have to be paid if they don't misbehave again, which should not be too hard.
They got one match suspensions but won't miss any games, because those games are also suspended.
The NRL did not want to punish the clubs by suspending their players because the players were not under the watch of their clubs at the time.
Yet attend any training session and it is customary for coaches to punish an entire squad for one player's lack of effort on the training paddock. After all, the coach reasons, the same lack of effort in a game, a try conceded, affects the entire team.
They win together, they lose together.
Comment to a coach that his players are not working at the moment and he will swiftly argue his players are training every day.
Again, it shows an administration that does not properly understand the culture it oversees, or the long term worth of strong decisions.
Originally published as Kent: NRL on knife edge as players risk it all