The Rugby League Players’ Association has further opposed the league’s ‘no-fault’ stand down policy, believing the newly introduced measure is failing to address the right issue when it comes to off-field player behaviour.
The NRL introduced the rule this season following the “summer of hell”, hoping it would calm a number of sponsors and fight the increase of off-field incidents involving league players, but the results have failed to put the intimidating trend to a halt.
David Fifita, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Sam Burgess, Josh Dugan and Manase Fainu have all been recently involved in separate incidents and altercations that have added to the league’s woes and stained image.
The RLPA is currently in mediation talks with the league, claiming the initiation of the stand down policy rule breached the terms of their collective bargaining agreement.
If both the league and its players’ union fail to find an agreement, the matter will be sent to arbitration, with a resolution expected to come before the 2020 season.
“If you look at any system around the world that focuses on a really penal approach, it’s not as effective as other systems that focus on education, rehab and support in reducing incidents linked to human behaviour,” said RLPA CEO Ian Prendergast.
“Philosophically, we want to align our interests more with the NRL because at the moment there is a disconnect. From our point of view, the players are frustrated with the relationship that currently exists between the RLPA and the NRL off the back of last season and the fact we’re working through this dispute.
“Our focus is protecting what we’ve agreed to under the CBA and the players’ contract to ensure the NRL can’t ride roughshod over that and make changes that are inconsistent with those things.
“We’ve always maintained rules, regulations and policies aren’t going to shift player behaviour. We’re disappointed as anyone when off-field incidents occur, particularly around how much we’re investing in addressing player behaviour.
“Where we are not as aligned with the NRL is how you shift that in a meaningful way long term. Yes, we absolutely support appropriate sanctions being handed down which need to include measures that address the actual root of the behaviour so a player can learn from the situation they find themselves and change their behaviour over time.”
Senior officials of the NRL are believed to be disappointed with the union’s stand following the latest string of off-field incidents. The governing body stand by its decision to introduce the no-fault rule to protect the league’s image, while the players association claim there should be a stronger focus on education and prevention.
“Particularly when you think about the demographics and how far back some of these players are coming from, there are a lot of players who have suffered adverse childhood experiences in their formative years that contributes to their behaviour,” Prendergast said.
“We’ve now got research and evidence-based recommendations we want to implement through the wellbeing program that aren’t being supported by the NRL.
“Our frustration is based on the talk in relation to how much money the game has lost in not being able to secure additional sponsors or fans due to off-field behaviour.
“But the reluctance to invest further to give these players the kind of training they need to cope with the demands placed on them through their standards and behaviour (is frustrating).
“You think about how much the game is investing in the integrity unit and a lot of that is quite reactionary in investigating matters.
“This really needs to be a whole of game approach. We can’t do this one-out, we’re only a small organisation compared to the resources the NRL and clubs have.”