Rugby league in 2016 – downfall or resurgence?

2016 has been a peculiar year for rugby league – fans have had to endure a seemingly endless number of scandals. So today, we’re looking at rugby league in 2016 (so far) and giving our 2 cents as to what kind of year it’s been for the game overall. Has 2016 been a year of disgrace for rugby league, or has a lot of the negativity this year been over-exaggerated? Let’s take a look.

First off, sadly I cannot say in my personal opinion that much of the backlash against rugby league has been overblown. Rugby league’s reputation suffered a hard hit in 2016 in the media, and it all began before the season even kicked off.

Everyone likely remembers the scandal involving Mitchell Pearce and his lewd behaviour with a pet at the start of the year. While some claimed the criticism was overblown and Pearce was set up, it nonetheless provided the all too familiar image of the party-hard sports star drunkard we thought we’d moved on from.

Video emerged of Pearce on his Australia Day bender in 2016

In a similar vein, six players from the New Zealand Warriors were temporarily stood down for abusing prescription drugs. This further tarnished rugby league players’ reputations for lacking self-control which was worsened still by the involvement of senior players in the incident.

One of the most high profile scandals of the year was the betting scandal which saw a large scale investigative operation by police launched into the Parramatta Eels and Manly Sea Eagles over allegations of match fixing.

This was on top of Parramatta’s salary cap scandal which saw the club release several marquee players, the resignation of a number of club staff, the reduction of 12 competition points and hefty fines. Tough year Parra fans, our hearts go out to you.

Rugby league players hanging with the wrong crowds was another issue throughout 2016. NRL players Jarryd Hayne, Corey Norman, Junior Paulo and James Segeyaro were all questioned after photographs emerged showing them associating with alleged bikies and accused criminals. In addition to this, Norman also received a $400 fine for possession of the drug MDMA.

Corey Norman plead guilty to drug possession

Next there were the cases of Semi Radradra and Andrew Fifita. Radradra was accused of domestic assault occurring in 2014 and 2015, while Fifita came under fire for showing public support for Kieran Loveridge, a man serving a 10-year sentence for the one-punch killing of Thomas Kelly.

Finally, it’s no secret that there’s been numerous dramas in junior rugby league this year, with numerous arrests, assaults and brawls occurring throughout the season.

A 16 year old junior rugby league official assaulted by a 34 year old trainer

Phew, that was a lot to get through. By now you’re surely thinking there’s no coming back from this, and you’re not totally wrong for thinking that – evidently, there’s been some disgraceful behaviour in rugby league in 2016.

But there might be a small light at the end of the tunnel. Behind the lavish scandals that the media have had a field day with, there has been some positive behaviour in rugby league this year, some of which can be see in our blog post: 7 feel good rugby league stories from 2016.

While it may not have earned the spotlight, the NRL launched a campaign to combat violence against women and another in congregation with headspace to promote the importance of mental health.

Finally, if we take a look at a lot of the cases listed above, much of the behaviour didn’t go unpunished. Mithcell Pearce was suspended for 8 games and stripped of his role as co-captain, the NRL integrity unit were heavily involved in investigating clubs and players alike in involvement of betting scandals and handed out hefty punishments, Radradra and Fifita were stood down by Australia coach Mal Meninga due to off-field issues and NSWRL launched campaigns to combat violence in junior rugby league this year.

Rugby league players came together for the NRL to fight violence against women

Clearly we’ve got a lot way to go. Rugby league is a beautiful game, but clearly one with behavioural and reputation flaws. It’s true that 2016 has not been a particularly great year for rugby league, particularly in the media, but there is still hope that things may improve.

We must remember that rugby league is a game full of potential role models that younger generations look up to. In order to craft a better future for them, and our game, rugby league must become a more responsible sport on and off the field. Here’s hoping the only way for rugby league in 2017 is up.

Sources: The Sydney Morning Herald, ABC,, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Sydney Morning Herald, NRL state of mind campaign, NRL violence against women campaign, Herald Sun

Image sources: Herald Sun, ABC, The Daily Telegraph, NRL 


–  JN


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