Category Archives: NRL Editorials

Editorials on the big issues in NRL Rugby League

Sonny Bill Williams makes more enemies

Sonny Bill Williams InterviewSonny Bill Williams is facing heat from all corners in the courts at present, this week it was NRL salary cap auditor Ian Schubert’s turn – claiming the runaway forward was crucial to the club’s recruitment and retention plans.

Documents were passed on to the courts on Wednesday, with Schubert providing an affidavit outlining the importance of building a player roster at any club. Highlighting the key players in any roster and how they are crucial to acquisition and retention of future squad members and other figures such as coaches.

“The contractual payments to which Sonny Bill Williams is entitled under his contract make him amongst the top 10 highest-paid players across the game in the last three years,” Schubert said.

“In my opinion there is no doubt that he is an elite or marquee player. This is reflected in his position in the salary cap of the Bulldogs. His contract payments comprise 10 per cent of the salary cap of the Bulldogs for the 2008 season.”

The Bulldogs head back to the NSW Supreme Court on Thursday to claim they subpoenaed Williams after he made his debut for French rugby union club Toulon – the same day an injunction was granted that prevented him from playing with any other code than rugby league.

Williams is at the centre of a contractual dispute after walking out in the first year of a five-year, $2million deal with the Dogs to take up a two-year, $2.6m contract with Toulon.

If NSW Supreme Court Justice Robert Austin rules that papers were served on Williams and he plays again for Toulon, he will be in contempt of court. That could lead to the courts seizing his $1.3m home at Caringbah in Sydney’s south.

In his affidavit, tabled in court last Friday, Schubert detailed how crucial marquee players were to the success of an NRL club.

“Such a player will generally help the team perform at an extremely high level and will attract fans, sponsors and other players to the club,” Schubert said. “There are generally not at any one time enough elite or marquee players to enable each NRL club to have one, although some clubs have two or more.

“The club will also use the marquee player as a recruiting tool for signing players.”

Schubert’s affidavit could add weight to any potential damages claim by the Bulldogs.

Todd Carney: Victim or Villain?

Todd Carney Canberra Raiders SackedThe recent saga involving Raiders star Todd Carney initially left many baying for blood, but after the dust has settled – was Todd really a villain or was he simply a victim of his youth, stardom and circle of friends and sponsors? – Its hard not to think the kid has been subject to some very bad advice along the way.But there are those who will argue that his response to the recent ultimatum simply confirms that he is beyond hope when it comes to accepting the extent of his inability to handle strong drink, or deal with its consequences.

It may be a combination of both but you have to think that he has been very badly advised in refusing to accept what were stringent, but in the circumstances not unreasonable or unexpected, conditions.

His Manager, or others around him, seems to have believed the Canberra Raiders were bluffing – especially on the conditions that he stands down for the rest of this year, and get off the drink.

That latter condition is largely unenforceable as we saw when the Parramatta Eels imposed it on Tim Smith!
The NRL – clearly responding to concern about its “stance” if you could call it that on Sonny Bill Williams – decided to take a tough line and deregister Carney for 2009 as well.

If he challenges that decision in the courts watch for an interesting case. The fact he has been denied the opportunity to state his case before having his career severely disrupted, not to mention what it does to his bank account, might not sit easy with courts that increasingly require that even the worst offender get a full and fair hearing!

But you have to ask yourself – how did Carney possibly get in this situation?

In my view all roads point to his Manager, who, within hours of the ultimatum being delivered cast doubt over it.

The Manager, and even the player, seems to have totally misread the mood of the Canberra Board and Management – and possibly even the club’s player leadership group.

The Raiders are a club with a rich heritage. I can well recall travelling to Queanbeyan with Queensland teams in the 1970’s and being singularly impressed by the management style, and commitment to the game, of the McIntyre’s and the Furner’s who ran the then Queanbeyan based club autocratically then – and the descendants of whom still run what is now the Canberra Raiders today.

Anyone who knows the history of the club would not have been at all surprised that once the Raiders laid down their conditions, they would not budge from them one iota.

Perhaps the considerable tolerance the club admittedly extended to Todd Carney over the last 18 months or so blinded his Manager to what would happen if they did not accept the club’s conditions?

But someone should have told Todd Carney the Raiders were deadly serious. And they were deadly serious from the moment they made public five very clear conditions.

If his Manager had really thought the whole issue through he should have realised there was no way the Raiders could possibly back down. Full stop!

And the demands from left right and centre that the NRL take a tough line over Sonny Bill Williams
should have sounded warning bells as well!

The Raiders are deserving of all the praise being heaped on them for their on field achievements. The fact they continue to do so despite the Carney saga points to a club that has its act together off the field as well.

And there are one or two clubs who would do well to follow the Raiders example.

How does the NRL and its teams survive?

“Is the NRL really about to die?”

So maybe the crowds are down , and we have a stack of off-field dramas cooking in the media; such as Sonny Bill Williams shooting through and Todd Carney unleashing his fire-hose on someone else along with the on-going trend of Rugby Union and UK Super League tournaments enticing plenty of top tier NRL players away.

So what can we do? Do we need to panic? Do we really need to make changes?

Maybe we could tweak the salary cap and give clubs a shot at keeping big name stars; such as Mark Gasnier, Brett Hodgson or Danny Buderus. But sadly, with the current business state of the clubs – David Gallop knows that changing the financial dynamics of the cap could literally send some clubs over the edge. Desperate to keep players, clubs could stretch themselves too far and collapse.

Some even say this might be a good thing; allowing a natural death of the weaker clubs will reduce teams in Sydney and make a stronger NRL all round. A pretty harsh view, think back to the Super League Wars – regardless of whether you agreed or disagreed with the Super League theory, it wasn’t fun for South Sydney Supporters, or even Crushers, Rams, Reds or Mariners supporters to see their teams wither and die.

What about the bad publicity at the moment, is the SBW saga or Todd Carney fiasco really hurting the NRL?

While doomsayers suggest its a ‘bad look’ in reality, any smart marketer knows that even ‘bad news’ is ‘good news’. Getting front and back page exposure adds to the NRL hitting the forefront of the public minds. Politically correct folks and officials within the NRL would never publicly admit this – but its true, stories and headlines keep the sport in the public eye.

What about on the NRL field? Some say the increase in penalties, players taking dives, video referee performance and attitude shown from some players towards referees are all hurting the NRL badly.

The quality of the game is always an important factor. The NRL has always been a smart innovator and if rules needed changing or cleaning up, they acted. They might need to tweak a few things right now. The video referee is a dead set lottery, no one knows which way he will go these days. Too much is left to ‘personal opinion’ and the likes of the Travis Burns no-try and even the Amos Roberts try both in Round 22 both totally incorrect – need to be stamped out of the game. The style of NRL with the dummy half running at present is a worry, the UK Super League has surpassed the National Rugby League in terms of excitement and and unpredictability – we need to ‘relax’ the A and B marker direct rule – which will stamp out all this safety first, boring one-out running.

An important factor must not be forgotten here, the NRL has done well to outlaw high tackles. While some complain (even TV commentators) that the game has softened up, keeping players heads and necks safe – ensures that juniors and more importantly, the parents of juniors allow their kids to play the game at grass roots level.

Closely tied into this, is the respect factor that players must show towards referees. Ok, so referees do get things wrong and in the case of Justin Hodges giving Tony Archer ‘the bird’ behind his back – this absolutely deserved 2 weeks off the field. You cannot, no matter how bad the decision – let players disrespect the referee. This breaks down the whole fabric of any game or sport and brings anarchy.

Why aren’t we getting bums on seats at NRL grounds? Is this a worry?

Quite simply, the amount of television coverage today spoils NRL Rugby League viewers. With every single game of NRL covered in both Australia and New Zealand, fans are truly spoilt. Two free to air games Friday night, Super Saturday PayTV coverage and more free to air on Sunday – it’s a feast for the family at home, saving money firing up the BBQ and watching the action.

NRL is the ideal TV sport. Unlike AFL where seeing the whole large field is critical to long range kicks, the NRL action fits nicely onto the box and can be followed sometimes much easier than the best seats at the stadiums.
Cutting back on Free to Air TV coverage and introducing Saturday afternoon games could see more families come back to the games. Suburban home grounds are a winner for many reasons; they are close to home for more families, offer lower pricing and an environment that provides a much more exciting atmosphere. Ok, so you might be sitting on a wooden seat, a cold slippery hill and the pies might be colder – but you can feel the vibe, wave your flag next to fellow supporters and not feel like you are the only one sitting in a 100,000 seat stadium.

The NRL also need s to re-approach a national coverage. To get serious and compete, they need to win back Perth and Adelaide. Forget the hurdles to jump, boundaries to cross and financial worries – it is a must. The way to start is by ensuring there is realistic TV coverage for now into these states; at relevant time slots to start winning back old punters. From there, the introduction of local teams will re-unite the comp and gain national exposure which is critical to being a the no.1 national game.

Are the representative games hurting the NRL crowds?

The likes of City vs Country, State of Origin and Kangaroo Test games are proud parts of the Rugby League calendar. However, tossing these games in as mid-week fixtures adds plenty of pressure onto players, coaches, officials and more importantly crowd attendances.

While many are concerned about player injuries during this time as the extra demands are placed on them, few talk about how these games take away from the weekend crowds. A big turn out to a representative game usually means lower attendances for that weekends NRL games, stars unable to backup and fans recovering from the financial costs of showing up to 2 games a week is usually the problem.

Lets push representative games to the weekend, to stop this problem.
How can NRL clubs generate more fans?

While several clubs now try and attract a larger following by taking games to other locations such as New Zealand, Queensland, Gosford or even PNG where NRL is huge – what about taking this to the next national level and trying Perth, Adelaide or more importantly regional areas. While NRL; certainly the ones traveling poorly can only get 7,000 to a local game – taking a game to a regional area should certainly attract a similar if not larger crowd if promoted well.

Should Sydney clubs merge?

This is a tough question. For the long term improvement of the NRL competition; Yes.

It’s such a tough call, because naturally supporters will not want to lose their clubs identity. But short term pain for long term game is whats on offer; if a few Sydney clubs tied the knot – it would not only allow them to become a powerhouse, it would bring back the crowds, bring in the revenue and allow national expansion plans to be finalised. For example; South Sydney and the Sydney Roosters could form an inner-city powerclub. A massive junior base, close proximity and an SFS base – a recipe for big things.

Out west, Parramatta and the Panthers could form a serious Western Sydney megaclub. Their junior pool would be the envy of the state and the support from two neighboring areas could see a giant born able to compete nationally week in, week out. Both clubs have impressive local stadiums that could share the load and sponsors would be keen to get on board to access a wider local market.

The Bulldogs in particular are a club in need of a new home. Rumours abound about their Central Coast investigations, probably a smart move for them at the moment. They have virtually surrendered Belmore Oval; a wreck beyond repair and a virtual write-off due to positioning and safety risks within that area – the Bulldogs cannot continue to play out of Homebush. They need to refind themselves and quickly; they have a good roster rolling up for 2009 – but need a true home where the fans can re-unite and call it their own.

Trimming the Sydney clubs will ultimately allow the expansion that is needed. Queensland are now the true powerhouse of Rugby League; through sheer crowd support and a growing junior base – they are leading the way. NSW need to take a leaf from their book and possibly take a hit to get ahead.

What about nationally; will the NZ Warriors ever work?

A relic of the ARL expansion from years ago; the NZ and formerly Auckland Warriors have remained intact. While they have only enjoyed serious success in 2002 the Warriors have threatened to go so close so many times. Some have said the future of the NZ Warriors is in doubt. And while the NRL has to consider a national Australian competition first and foremost – I think it would be a shame to cut the NZ franchise away.

When the Warriors finally win their maiden premiership (lets hope it doesn’t take as long as Cronulla) they will unlock the most powerful force in Rugby League. The New Zealand public are the sleeping giant of the game. They are a country that lives for Rugby Union at the moment and thats mostly because thats all they have ever known; a successful League team in NZ will introduce more Kiwis to the game and unleash a generation of kids wearing Warriors jerseys not Super 14 jerseys. A premiership brings a chain-reaction of events which brings a whole country of potential with the Warriors.

What about a second tier, relegation style competition for the NRL?

With a competition of 12 teams seeming ideal, the NRL could have each team playing each other twice which is a much more balanced and fairer system. If the NRL was to cut clubs or merge them; they could soften the blow by introducing a ‘second tier’ competition to keep clubs, fans and players happy. Unlike the ‘Reserve Grade’ competition where each team had a feeder group of players take part; a lower Tier competition where the likes of say Newtown, Wellington, Central Coast, Perth Reds or new faces could compete – establish a foot hold and be promoted for winning. The winning club should face the wooden spooners of the NRL for a possible competition swap, creating excitement for even the wooden spooners in a match both teams would be desperate to win.

We hope these ideas have sparked some debate and while its healthy for us all to debate the NRL and it’s potential shortcomings – it’s handy to know that the quality is always being produced. Sonny Bill Williams has captured plenty of headlines for his walkout and rightly should be chased in court for contract monies owed – we suddenly see rookies like Ben Barba and Dane Laurie burst onto the scene with raw flair and determination.

We can’t see the light of our game ever burning out.

Walford and Corowa miss Aboriginal Team

Aboriginal Rugby League Team of the CenturyWhile modern day NRL players Johnathan Thurston, Greg Inglis and Sam Thaiday have made it into the Australian rugby league’s Indigenous Team of the Century; shock omissions included former flyer’s: Ricky Walford and Larry Corrowa. League’s first ever Aboriginal player, George Green, taking the field for Eastern suburbs at the games birth in 1908, made the squad with the likes of Wally McArthur, who played the majority of his Rugby League career in England notching up 4 tries for a Rest of the World team.

Frank King Fisher, the grandfather of athletics great Cathy Freeman and regarded as the Aboriginal version of Wally Lewis, was selected after representing Wide Bay against touring Great Britain sides in the 1930s.

Fisher was denied the opportunity to tour with the Kangaroos when he was refused a passport to pursue a his career overseas. The Indigenous Team of the Century was announced to fans at half time during tonight’s NRL clash between the Bulldogs and Cowboys.

The teams is: Eric Simms, Lionel Morgan, Steve Renouf, Greg Inglis, Dale Shearer, Laurie Daley, Johnathan Thurston, Sam Backo, Mal Cochrane, Arthur Beetson, Gorden Tallis, Sam Thaiday, Cliff Lyons, George Green, Wally McArthur, Frank Fisher, John Ferguson.

Queensland and Australian prop Sam Backo was overwhelmed by his selection. “I was happy to play for my state and my country but to get this recognition, not only from your peers, but the people, is a very special honour,” Backo said.

Thurston, who recognises his heritage by using a mouth guard with the colours of his people, described his selection as a “huge honour”.

“Representing your people and your family, it’s a very proud moment in my career,” said the currently injured Cowboys captain.

Will Cummins survive another shocker?

NRL Referee Ben CumminsHe’s been hanging on by a thread for most of the NRL 2008 season, but NRL referee Ben Cummins is set to cop more heat this week after his hammering of the Cronulla Sharks in their game against the Bunnies at the weekend. While Sharks coach Ricky Stuart hasn’t singled out Cummins for criticism, many that watched the match felt the locals were dealt a harsh hand on more than one occasion and surely Referee’s boss Robert Finch must wield the axe over the Cummins this week.

While Stuart was obviously furious regarding the penalty count after his side’s 28-14 win over Souths his side on the wrong end of a 11-1 penalty count at half-time. He said feelings would have been totally different had the poor refereeing performance cost his side the victory.

Stuart did not single out Cummins for criticism but said he was disappointed the use of referee tip sheets, on which referees were supposedly given particular aspects of a player or team’s game to crack down on, was possibly a distraction to officials.

Finch denied tip sheets were used, saying Stuart was referring to a review of the referees’ performance that both teams and referees received each week.

“It’s not a tip sheet, it’s a review of the referee’s performance which every coach, every week gets,” Finch said.

“It’s a review to say `yeah, this referee got this decision right, that referee got that decision wrong’.

“It’s more or less a check for them (coaches) as well to fix up areas in their game that we believe in the debrief came up.

“So to call it a ‘`tip sheet’ when it suits you is probably a little bit disappointing.

“You can call it what you like but that’s not what it is.”

The Sharks were repeatedly penalised around the ruck and did not receive their first penalty until late in the first half at Toyota Stadium.

They only conceded one penalty in the second half, though, with the count improving to 12-6 by the end of the game.

Finch, who will review Cummins’ performance, said teams also needed to take responsibility for their own discipline.

“The bottom line of it all is the referee on occasion does have issues but so does the discipline of football teams in general,” Finch said.

Stuart was angry post-match and said he would have been willing to cop a $10,000 fine for criticising the referee if his team had lost the match.

“It’d cost me a lot of money if we had have got beaten because I would’ve unloaded,” Stuart said.

“That could have lost us the game.

“… It (refereeing) is a tough job, but they’re making it tougher for themselves by having these stupid tip sheets.

“They pick a couple of little things in the game previously which they ‘so-call’ review and they knit-pick their way through a game.”

The win moved Cronulla into a share of the competition lead while it ended any slim hope Souths may have had of making the finals.

NRL fans baffled at weekly refereeing lottery

NRL RefereeAs the NRL finals approach for 2008, as with every year – the pressure on the referees and officials takes an upward trend. Naturally, clubs are desperate to make the finals and wrong calls can literally make or break a teams season.

Of most concern during NRL 2008 and recent seasons is the ‘lottery’ each time a try is referred to a video referee. It seems 99.9% of supporters, commentators and teams are prepared for anything – as interpretations and slow motion video footage seem to suck the common sense out of video officials.

Think about when you are watching your own team play in the NRL, you see a certain try scored – however when it’s referred to the video referee you start biting your nails thinking – “What kind of mood is the video ref in?” “Will he suddenly ‘look’ for a reason not to give the try?” “Oh no, he is replaying the footage more than 4 times, this can’t be good”

Then all of a sudden a ref’s call decision comes up; which is the last thing on everyones mind – just to confuse the issue.

It seems NRL fans around the country are feeling the same, this email below typifies the response we are seeing almost weekly at NRL News:

Dear Sirs,

We have never written to anyone regarding the NRL and its handling of refereeing matters until now.  However, each year we have slowly watched the erosion of quality of refereeing in the NRL.  Today we regularly see inconsistency in decision making on a week to week basis, which has significantly impacted  the results of many NRL games.  It appears that either the selected referees/assistant referees do not have the aptitude to continue to learn and improve their skills or their training regime leaves a lot to be desired and a change at the top needs to be made for 2009.

We are constantly reminded that the game will need to improve in all aspects to ensure its survival and competitiveness given pressures from other clubs etc.  Unfortunately this does not appear to be happening.  We are, and continue to be subject to below standard, inconsistent refereeing.  This leads to frustration on the part of fans and a lack of desire to continue to follow a game which appears to be blighted by incompetence or an ongoing lethargy to improve the standard of performance of referees/assistant referees.

While we understand that referees/assistant referees may be hard to find and under weekly pressure, surely there is a better selection method than the one currently used.  We are astounded that referees/assistant referees are only able to police one aspect of the game each week, they do not appear to be able to understand/interpret the NRL rules in a common sense manner and at times appear to have already prejudged the outcome prior to the game being played.  We have noted in a number of statistics that certain referees appear biased against certain teams – this behaviour is not acceptable and should be dealt with immediately.  I am sure that you keep your own statistics in relation to these issues.

Higher mortgage rates, rises in fuel costs etc all affect the family budget and what a family is able to spend its money on.  The lack of commitment in ensuring higher quality refereeing will certainly start to make our family think twice about attending games.  We have attended numerous away games, NRL  Grand Finals etc as we enjoy the game.  However over the last couple of years we have not done so as the standard of refereeing/assistant refereeing has continued to fall and has not been improved or assisted by clearer rules.

We feel it is time to replace Mr Finch and hopefully refresh either the methods of training or the quality of those selected to referee first grade games – the introduction of a few females perhaps wouldn’t go astray.

We understand that you don’t look at criticism of referees until the end of the season – we hope you consider our views (which are not dissimilar to those that we sit next to at games) and implement changes.


Chavasse family

The Architects of the SBW treason deal

sonny-bill-williams-gavin-orr-khoder-nasser.jpgIt seems Sonny Bill Williams has had several helpers in his French rugby union defection. It’s now come to light a New Zealand-born sports lawyer based out of the United Kingdom was a key player in the walk-out arrangement.

Despite denials, Duncan Sandlant was the mystery man photographed with Williams in a taxi leaving Heathrow airport last Monday.

In a major boost to the Bulldogs’ and the NRL’s NSW Supreme court injunction, The Sunday Telegraph can also reveal:

* Toulon recruitment agent Nicolas Pironneau is the other chief architect behind the Williams deal;
* Toulon players were informed Williams was the newest addition to their roster last Monday;

* Williams visited a Sydney bank on July 24 to withdraw all his money and transfer it to a London account;

* Bulldogs doctor Hugh Hazard has dismissed suggestions Williams was told to sign until the end of the 2012 season because he had a dodgy knee as “rubbish”.

The other man who has been instrumental in the Williams treachery is French-based Toulon agent Pironneau, who initially denied having done the deal.

The agent of Toulon coach Tana Umaga and star recruit Jerry Collins, Pironneau told The Sunday Telegraph during the week: “I understand Sonny Bill wants to meet Tana and to speak with him, but that’s all. I think there is no deal done.”

But when contacted last Friday, Pironneau changed his story, admitting he was one of the masterminds of the Toulon coup.

“I made the approach with the help of his agent in Australia and he showed great interest in the idea,” Pironneau said. “When I explained to the agent that Tana Umaga was really interested in his profile, it was a great surprise to them.”

Asked the name of the agent, believed to be renegade Khoder Nasser, Pironneau replied: “No, I don’t like your question. I understand there is a problem with Sonny Bill Williams because I read the newspapers.

“I don’t want to go into this problem. You know who the agent of Sonny Bill Williams is, I think.”

Pironneau denied knowing the whereabouts of Williams and rejected reports the Kiwi league international would be paid $3million.

“It’s bulls***. In France, international French players are not paid this kind of amount,” Pironneau said.

“Dan Carter of the All Blacks is not paid that amount. For a player that comes from rugby league, a young player … no.”

Working out of London, Sandlant met Williams at Heathrow Airport last Monday. Despite being photographed sitting next to Williams in a London cab, Sandlant denied he was the man who collected the disgruntled former Bulldog.

Questioned about Williams by a London photographer during the week, Sandlant replied: “He’s stressed, very stressed and just wants to be left alone.”

But when contacted by The Sunday Telegraph about Williams, Sandlant said: “Think you have got the wrong person here.”

The deal for Williams to flee Australia for Europe was first hatched two months ago when Toulon coach and former All Blacks centre Umaga visited Sydney.

Todd Carney disputes Raider rules, angers officials

Todd Carney Police Ute Chase in CanberraUnder fire Canberra Raiders no.7 Todd Carney, currently banned for the remainder of NRL 2008 after his latest public episode, has now requested more information before agreeing to a rehabilitation plan, put to him by the Raiders club and senior playing group.

In a move that could test his relationship with the Raiders even further, Carney is believed to be about to end his silence on the issue by writing an open letter to give his version of events.

Carney has gone to ground since the new of him urinating on a patron at a Canberra nightclub went front page news just 2 weeks ago. However, Carney is frustrated he hasn’t been given the chance to tell his side of things.

Player manage for Carney, David Riolo, didn’t want to go into details of the Carney response to the Raiders’ 5-point plan for the troubled player, but said he wanted more information about certain points.

Under the rehabilitation agreement, Carney would need to:

* Banned from NRL in 2008;

* Refrain from having any alcohol;

* Undertake counselling;

* Engage in community service;

* Pay a fine, of around $20,000.

“I have replied to their five-point plan,” Riolo said.

“We haven’t rejected it. We have replied and asked for a clarification about how that proposal was reached and where it goes.”

In a recent statement Raiders boss, Don Furner said: “Todd’s manager David Riolo has sent through a response in regards to the club’s proposal, and out of good faith the board has agreed to look at this response before a final decision is made on Todd’s future.

“We will aim to make a decision on Monday.”

It’s been an amazing escape for Todd Carney so far; in a similar manner to what happened 12 months prior where Carney got in trouble with Raiders team mate Steve Irwin; once again his Canberra team mate (this time it was Bronx Goodwin) gets sacked immediately and somehow Todd Carney is able to survive with a rehab plan. It shows how desperate the Raiders are to hang on to their leading player in tough times.

Raiders team mate Bronx Goodwin was sacked by the club following the incident on the same night which resulted in him being charged with two counts of assault.

It later emerged Carney had been in trouble at the nightclub previously, after he was accused of grabbing a woman’s breast.

Should Carney fail to accept the Raiders’ sanctions, he may well be booted from the club – a move which might then be followed by deregistration by the NRL.

If these events play out then Carney would be forced to move to England to continue his rugby league career. Alternatively, he could look to follow the lead of Mark Gasnier and Sonny Bill Williams by switching codes to play rugby union.

Restraint of Trade a threat to NRL says lawyer

NRL Salary Cap Restraint of Trade

Is the NRL’s ‘Restraint of Trade’ Reasonable?

If you buy a café in Parramatta from someone else, then as a new business owner you don’t want them opening up a competing café right next door to you. More than likely they would take their established goodwill with them and deprive you of a real chance of making good with your new café.

This is why the law recognises that in some circumstances it is legitimate to impose a ‘restraint of trade’ upon someone. The general rule is that any conduct which results in a ‘restraint of trade’ is unlawful unless they are ‘reasonable’ – everyone has the right to make an honest quid. Reasonable means the restriction can’t be for a period that is too long, it can’t cover a huge geographic area and it can’t be too broad in scope. For example, going back to our café, any clause in the sale contract retraining the former owner from trading can’t say that the seller is not allowed to establish any food business anywhere in NSW for 10 years. That would be unreasonable on all three counts.

Well what about sports people? Do the same rules apply? Can a restraint of trade be imposed on them? The short answer is yes but for different reasons. In 1971 a case was decided by the High Court of Australia called Buckley v Tutty. It involved many of the same issues the NRL is facing now with Sonny Bill Williams.

Basically the High Court decided that yes footballers are involved in a trade despite the activity being a sport. Therefore they can’t be retrained from playing football unless the terms and reasons for the restraint were reasonable.

The first question then is what justifiable interests are being protected if Williams is prevented from playing Rugby in France? It’s not just about Williams and the NRL though, it’s about the sport and the competition as a whole – those are the considerations the judges will have to look at when determining reasonableness.

In similar cases in the past, judges have often considered the effects of allowing players to freely move from club to club on a competition and have understood the public support derived from a strong and evenly matched competition.

The second question and more problematic from a legal point of view is whether the restraint of trade is reasonable. It extends beyond the borders of an individual sport and indeed even crosses international borders. It is very unlikely that the bulldogs or the NRL will be able to prove that the restraint is reasonable in a legal sense.

The other issue that’s important here is the Trade Practices Act 1974 which is the main law regulating competition in the Australian market place. It makes ‘restrictive trade practices’ unlawful. Pretty much anything that hampers competition is disallowed by the Trade Practices Act. However, this doesn’t apply to contracts of employment, as for example, between Williams and the Bulldogs. But since there is no separate contract between Williams and the NRL, as would happen with the ARU if Williams was playing union, the source of the restriction is the NRL’s salary cap rules and as such the Trade Practices Act could be an important consideration in this controversy. We’ll have to wait and see.     

This won’t be the first case of a footballer going to court over an issue like this – just ask Terry Hill –  and it probably won’t be the last.

Andrew Dahdal, Associate Lecturer, Division of Law, Macquarie University.


Court proceedings started against SBW

Sonny Bill Williams Heathrow Airport July 2008The NRL and the Bulldogs club have today approached the the NSW Supreme Court in an attempt to curb runaway player Sonny Bill Williams as he arrives in London; expected to continue on to France. A massive test case for the NRL and possibly all sporting codes regarding sanctity of contracts, restraint of trade and international sporting rules – Sonny Bill Williams’ decision to flee while in the early stages of a long term contract is set to see a lengthy court battle.

Todays news comes as Sonny Bill Williams was sighted and photographed at London’s Heathrow Airport, many believing he is headed to southern France.

The Bulldogs, with the support of the NRL, today attempted to lodge an injunction with the Supreme Court, which, if passed successfully, will stop Williams being able to take part in the rival Rugby code for an estimated $3million.

“The injunction will seek to restrain him from training or playing other than in accordance with the Bulldogs contract,” NRL chief executive David Gallop said.

“The consequences of breaching an injunction when put in place are that he is liable to contempt of court proceedings that can involve everything from arrest to seizure of assets.”

Player manager Khoder Nasser has also been subpoenaed to provide documents relating to information on Williams’s whereabouts by Thursday.

Should Williams not front next week, or have a representative appear on his behalf, the hearing will be postponed.

This would be followed by legal arguments to show whether Williams is in contempt of court or whether in fact the Supreme Court has jurisdiction in the matter given Williams is now overseas.

Bulldogs lawyer Arthur Moses claimed the court should have jurisdiction given the breach of contract was committed in NSW.

Supreme Court judge Robert Austin admitted to Moses “you’ve got a bit of a burden on your shoulders” in reference to the Bulldogs bid to track down Williams.

“I’m concerned this is kind of a blitzkrieg strategy,” he said.

The Department of Immigration has also subpoenaed in a bid to help track down Williams, given he would have supplied them with a French address on his departure.

The Bulldogs attempted to have Nasser subpoenaed despite assertions from the controversial player manager yesterday that he was not representing the runaway star.

The Bulldogs claimed they had been operating under the assumption Nasser had been acting as Williams’s manger since earlier this year.

“I’ve been instructed to deal with Khoder Nasser over the last three months and that instruction has come from Sonny Bill Williams direct,” Greenberg said.

“Who we (deal with) going forward I’m not sure.”

Amid rumours Williams may actually be headed for Toulouse and not Toulon, a spokesperson from the Toulon club denied any knowledge of the Kiwi international having signed a deal.

“For me he is not coming to Toulon, and for the (club) president too,” Sandrine Nacci said.

“I have heard about the news this weekend, it was very crazy, but we have no information about that.

“The French union (requires) the French clubs to sign all the contracts before the 15th July … we have no contract signed by Sonny Bill Williams.

“Maybe the president has a contract with him before the 15th July, but for the moment, nothing.”

Gallop expressed dismay at claims from the IRB that they were powerless to stop Williams from signing with Toulon.

“If they don’t have jurisdiction, then who does? Can this rogue club simply operate without rules in their code?

“I find that very alarming, and alarming for rugby union as it is for rugby league.”

The NRL boss gave an insight into a possible reason for Williams’ covert departure from Australia, the Kiwi juggernaut only informing those closest to him of his intentions as he boarded a plane on Saturday.

With the Bulldogs having already stated their marquee talent would not be released from the remaining four years of is contract, Gallop suggested the club may have slapped on Williams to prevent his departure.

“I would have thought the Bulldogs would certainly have done that,” Gallop said.