NRL Press Conference
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 03: Australian Rugby League Commission Chairman Peter V'landys speaks to the media during a NRL press conference at Rugby League Central on September 03, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

After a week in which Paul Vaughan and his Dragon cohorts brought the game into serious disrepute, the NRL and its Integrity Unit once again have their shoulders well and truly to the wheel.

At what appears to be an increasing rate, the NRL powers at be continue to be working diligently with clubs on a daily basis in an effort to curb and moderate the behaviours of NRL players who appear not to understand the privileged and charmed life they live as professional sports people.

A commonly held and proven truism is that the game always bounces back, no matter what disasters, stresses or misfortune it faces. Most likely, that will continue to be the case well into the long-term future.

However, such talk is misguided when offered as some sort of reasoning as to why a silent acceptance of the current behaviours should be treated as reasonable.

Quite simply, it's fine to suggest that player indiscretions are not the end of the world, overstated in the media and unlikely to impact the game over the long term. Yet more pertinent is the question of why the entire rugby league community does not stand firmly in denial of such a narrow and opportunistic view and demand that, whilst the game will most likely continue to survive and flourish, there should also exist a concerted effort to be better.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 22: The crowd attendance is shown on the scoreboard during the NRL Preliminary Final match between the Melbourne Storm and the Brisbane Broncos at AAMI Park on September 22, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

The view of many involved in the game appears to be that no matter the seriousness or subsequent impact of the nonsense that players regularly produce off-field, we should all proceed as per usual; knowing that the game's ability to be Teflon-like and see nothing stick permanently, will always trump unacceptable behaviour.

The notion of an Integrity Unit charged with the task of creating better and more responsible men and women in the game appears forlorn, particularly when it comes to the results that the body has achieved in recent years.

In reality, the unit dishes out meek punishments and judgements, with any decisions apparently bearing little meaning or consequence to the modern player.

Considering the consistent offence rate, one could mount a rather convincing argument that the Integrity Unit operates as something of a farce when it comes to NRL players’ unwillingness and inability to act with decency and maturity on such a consistent basis.

This week it was COVID-19 related. Often it is alcohol-fuelled incidents, violence and disrespect of women, an issue with drugs or domestic issues that paste a negative image of the game across the back pages of newspapers and provide click-bait heaven for the digital media.

Whilst some will write off the negativity with a waft of their hand and cite the game’s ability to rebound and recover, the NRL Commission might be better off by charging the Integrity Unit with the power to act far more decisively and triple the punishments applied. They could also do far worse than working with and encouraging individual clubs to demand something far more from the players who play the game.

To some this might sound a little utopian, yet standing idle whilst other codes improve their public profile will continue to do little more than promote a false perception that rugby league is a game played with a minor collection of trouble-makers who appear to respect nothing other than the salary and status they enjoy.

In truth, for every selfish player there is a fine young man determined to be and play better.

The NRL desperately needs to exterminate the poor behaviour as quickly as possible and improve the image of the game by featuring and starring those men whose integrity has not yet been ruined by the untouchable feelings of superiority that Paul Vaughan and his Dragon buddies appear to have well and truly been caught up in.

Palming the events off and suggesting the game will quickly rebound, despite a strong pattern of arrogance and disrespect among NRL players who consistently flaunt expectations, is wrong.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 15: Paul Vaughan of the Dragons looks dejected after full time during the round 18 NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Wests Tigers at UOW Jubilee Oval on July 15, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Rugby league fans deserve more from their players. Clubs also do as employers and if the game truly believes that it can continue to thrive in an ever-increasingly competitive sports market without charging the Integrity Unit with some serious and meaningful power, they will most likely appear foolish in the long-term.