Reasons to be cheerful (for NRL fans)

Well, the sky has fallen-in and there is weeping and wailing across the land as the Melbourne Storm have been outed as massive rorters of the salary cap and stripped of two NRL premierships and two minor premierships. Oh, and lots of other penalties, too. The commentaries are dire and the forebodings fearful. But is it all necessarily so grim? I think not!

Well, let’s acknowledge right up front that it IS a gut-wrenching situation and has delivered a black eye to all rugby league fans. But . . .

The brightest light on the horizon is NRL boss, David Gallop. What a staunch stalwart. He has suffered more kicks in the guts in recent years than a rodeo clown but keeps picking himself up from the dirt and gets right back on the beast. Much more importantly, he demonstrates the values that the silent fans hold dear. His integrity is worth more to our game than any single team. His courage matches that of The Immortals. His discipline is the fundamental that enables the great players to do what they do. Thank you, David, and please don’t leave us for a very long time yet.

The salary cap has copped lots of slings and arrows but it has produced a wonderful – if occasionally frustrating – competition whose evenness allows every team to (at the start of a season anyway) to enjoy at least the prospect of a premiership. The cap alone is what gives every single player and fan the heart to know that their favourites have a real chance. Yes, the rules of fairness were fractured but it is not the cap that was sullied just a small bunch of cheats. Who would countenance breaching the cap again for a very long time given the now-known penalties and the vigilance with which it is policed?

Salary cap auditor, Ian Schubert, has copped a gobful, too, for not unearthing the scandal earlier. But the proof of the pudding is that Storm’s deceit WAS exposed and by Schubert’s team. Like referees, he may not be perfect but there is now no doubting his determination to ensure even-handedness.

It has also been said the Storm stars now have nothing to play for this year (since their team will not be permitted to score any match points) but, for mine, they have more to play for than ever. Their qualities as human beings will be on display each and every week as never before and they have the chance to shine brighter than ever. I, for one, will eagerly watch how they manage their time in this cruel crucible. It’s not the disappointments life deals every one of us that define us but how we respond. Rugby league fans love the game for its tests of character. Well, this is the greatest one I can imagine.

The naysayers tell us rugby league is now dead in Melbourne. But I suspect there are many people – and a lot who would not even consider themselves fans – who will look at this episode and find something to like in the now clearly espoused values that underpin the administration of the game. I hate the stain but I’m proud of League’s response.

We could have done without this but down the track we may well find that it will prove a boon for defining sportsmanship in the way that Australians have, for generations, held so dear. It’s not all about winning, it’s how you play the game.

Yes, there are many reasons still to be cheerful.