League losing battle to alcohol  


By Stuart Honeysett
March 08, 2008

RUGBYLeague is losing its battle against the bottle with figures showing there has been an alarming jump in the number of alcohol-related incidents over the past two years. 

The Weekend Australianhas obtained a list of offences in light of last weekend's ugly boozy night out involving Test players Mark Gasnier and Jarryd Hayne that culminated in a drive-by shooting at Kings Cross.

That wasn't the only blemish that took the gloss off the launch of the game's centenary season, after Newcastle sacked hooker Terence Seu Seu for a string of alcohol-related incidents.

The figures show that since the start of the 2006 season there has been 30 alcohol-related incidents including assaults, bar room brawls and drink-driving convictions. The last time a similar study was conducted was midway through the 2006 season which found there had been 35 incidents over five years.

Despite the fact the number of incidents has doubled, the NRL maintains it is working tirelessly to address the growing problem of alcohol abuse with its education programs and counselling.

NRL chief executive David Gallop told The Weekend Australian this week he was confident its approach was having an impact on players. "You would have to accept they work because there's an awareness of the problem," Gallop said.

"You can't say something's not working just because you continue to have incidents.

"You don't measure the amount of people that have actually benefited from the education and have not got themselves in trouble.

"There's no headline in football if a footballer goes out and takes a responsible approach to beer consumption."

However, Manly chief executive Grant Mayer expressed concerns the publicly known offences could be the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

"We only read about the ones that get into the press," Mayer said. "How many more issues do the clubs handle that don't get into the press? How many more don't get from the player to the club?

"If we're talking about 10 incidents a year that we all know and read about, how many more are actually happening at clubs and with the individuals themselves that nobody knows about?"

Brisbane chief executive Bruno Cullen said he was surprised the game was losing the war against alcohol.

The Broncos encourage their players to arrive and leave as a group when they head out to ward off the potential for trouble.

"I must say I'm surprised by the stats because my opinion is we are more diligent and we are doing more in that regard," Cullen said.

"These things are being highlighted more and more and that advertises to all of us, especially the players, that they have to pull their heads in and don't get themselves in those situations."

Gallop canvassed the issue of player discipline with his club bosses at a chief executives meeting in Sydney, telling them he saw no role for the NRL to step in.

Although the league has the power to fine clubs up to $500,000 and individuals up to $50,000 for bringing the game into disrepute, it is a mechanism rarely used with clubs meting out the punishment. The clubs agreed to maintain the status quo, claiming they were better equipped in terms of resources and knowledge to deal with the issues.

While there have been some comparisons with the power American football or the AFL wields over its clubs, Gallop said there were too many logistical problems with this approach.

"Where would you draw the line? There are discipline issues happening on a weekly basis at clubs," Gallop said.

"If players are late for training, if players come to training with a hangover, what do you do? Ring a hotline and say we need you here now?

"It's not practical. The best approach is that everything starts with it being a club issue and then we review what they've done and decide whether we need to take action as well."

The Eels took a strong stance against Hayne and his lower grade team-mates Weller Hauraki and Juniro Paulo, dishing out $2000 fines and dropping them for the season-opener.

Fellow Eel Mark Riddell escaped punishment after his presence at the night gone wrong was confirmed.

The Dragons also fined Gasnier, but there were plenty of critics calling on the club to take an even tougher stance and strip him of the captaincy. North Queensland chief executive Peter Parr said there was no easy solution, but clubs were largely getting the balance right between punishment and rehabilitation.

"While I think it's more publicised now the players have to be very wary and smarter and understand that's actually the case," Parr said.

"There's no use crying foul about bad publicity after the event because at the end of the day they should understand that anything they get involved in is going to be publicised heavily.

"We try and be proactive and inform our players how to handle yourself in different situations - try and do something before the event rather than after the event.

"But it's difficult when you're responsible for so many young men at that age."

While the game searches for answers to combat the growing alcohol threat, Mayer said the events of last Monday could end up having the most impact.

"All of a sudden now the bar has been increased and you've got a bullet being fired at a player," Mayer said.

"I tend to think even the dumbest individual will realise things may have changed." 


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