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Over-reacting won't help prevent bad behaviour; education will  


Roy Masters | September 2, 2009


RUGBY LEAGUE is a code of over-reaction. Whenever there is an ''atrocity'' - as the media has come to describe incidents ranging in severity from urinating in public to Roosters centre Setaimata Sa allegedly slapping his partner, resisting arrest, fighting with bouncers and causing malicious damage to an iron gate - people rush around searching for cause-and-effect relationships.


One theory, which has gained popularity in recent days, is that the two clubs at the bottom of the ladder - the Roosters and Sharks - are tops in the hall of shame department. Their poor performance on the field has spread to antisocial off-field behaviour, reflecting a poor disciplinary structure pervading both clubs … or so the argument runs.


But the Sharks' troubles with the police and media watchdogs occurred before the season began, with Greg Bird's assault charge, Brett Seymour's drunken episode in a shopping mall and Reni Maitua's positive test to performance-enhancing drugs coming in March or earlier. The exposure of former five-eighth Matthew Johns, as chronicled on a Four Corners program, referred to sins committed in Christchurch seven years previously.


No, the Sharks' equal last position in the premiership is more to do with long-term injuries, the absence of an organising halfback, chronic bad luck and, as the NRL conceded this week, over-reaction by referees.


The Roosters, however, have had problems all season - beginning with Jake Friend's drink-driving charge in March, Willie Mason's $2000 fine for urinating in public, Friend and Sandor Earl charged with assault after a nightclub brawl in June, Nate Myles defecating in a hotel corridor in July and now Sa's problems.


The media over-reaction to some of these incidents evokes the Bible's ''Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!'' After all, some leading citizens have had a pee behind a pub, or been locked outside a hotel door, naked, in the early hours, after opening the wrong door.


Rooster boosters will point to the fact the antisocial behaviour has occurred after matches - implying defeat has been so self-destroying that the players were forced to marinate their shattered psyches in 30 shots. Puh-leeze.


Have the Dragons gone berserk after their three recent losses?


Did the pressure on the Titans to win every home game erupt when they were beaten by the Cowboys? Did they cut a swathe through Gold Coast bars?


No, we are entitled to conclude there is a relationship between the Roosters' poor discipline on the field and what happens after games. If players don't chase hard on kicks, support each other with the ball, assist in tackles and keep the penalty count down, they're unlikely to leave the pub early in order to redeem themselves at the next training session. The Roosters lack an identity, and that is reflected in overall poor discipline.


While we're into relationships, there is a far more significant correlation in the NRL: the linkage between players who have no job or education and their off-field behaviour. 

Former St George captain Mark Coyne is chairman of the NRL and players' association education and welfare committee.


''If a player is not working or pursuing an education, there is a big chance he is doing something unacceptable to society,'' Coyne says. ''There is definitely a correlation between the investment clubs are making in education and welfare and what is happening off the field.


''We did a review of the bad headlines of players in trouble with off-field behaviour and found 80 per cent of them had no formal education or employment background.''


Coyne's committee submitted a report to a recent CEOs meeting revealing a scale on which clubs were ranked in terms of their expenditure on education and welfare.


Significantly, premiers Manly - privately owned and counting their pennies - devoted least resources to programs designed to encourage players to seek part-time work or tertiary studies.


Perhaps the money spent on the pre-season launch party that led to Brett Stewart and Anthony Watmough's well-publicised troubles could have been diverted to education in off-field relationships. 

Coyne was at the Ensemble theatre with his wife, a counsellor who works with offenders and parolees, when the Herald called following the Sa case.


''She gives me heaps of tips on how to handle some of these issues,'' Coyne said. 

Asked what show they watched, he said: ''The Cow Jumped Over The Moon. It's all about relationships.''


Coyne's relationship with the NRL and such an important committee is cause for the Cowboys and all other clubs to be over the moon. 



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