The NRL has never lacked for off-field dramas. Since the Super League wars back in the 90’s, it’s barely gone a month or two without some sort of scandal or disruption.
In recent times players, coaches and officials have come under the spot light of the media more and more, with the latest being David Gallop.
Gallop has been such a focal point for many of the major issues around the NRL, that it’s a little strange that he has decided not too see out the first full year with the Rugby League Commission in charge.
Gallop hasn’t had an easy ride during his time at the top. The fans and players within Australian sports, especially rugby league, are particularly passionate, vocal people.
One of the first problems to fall in his lap was the Bulldog’s Coffs Harbour sex scandal, followed not long after by their salary cap scandal. He’s also handed out punishments such as stripping two premierships (2007 and 2009) from the Melbourne Storm, and forcing them to play out the 2010 season for no points after breaching the salary cap. A decision he made without the approval of the NRL Board.
In recent times, Gallop also faced criticism for the treatment of Manly fullback Bret Stewart when he was banned for four games for ‘drunkeness’ but looked like a knee-jerk reaction to the sexual assault charges Stewart was facing, and eventually acquitted of.
No one could say Gallop has had an easy ride during his ten seasons in charge. But looking back in hindsight, many of his decisions seem to have put the NRL ahead of the players and fans.
Melbourne’s salary cap scandal warranted harsh punishment. But he failed to correct the imbalance by allowing the Storm – arguably the best team in the comp – to play out a season with players they’d paid for illegally. Meaning the other teams in the competition were forced to play, and more often then not lose against an unfairly stacked squad.
Timing and weak communication on the part of not only Gallop, but also the NRL Board combined to make a PR nightmare of the Bret Stewart incident. While not expected to put players ahead of the game, their choice to suspend Stewart for four games wasn’t in keeping with a punishment for simply being intoxicated. It was obvious, and painful for the Manly fans to see one of their key players treated like a criminal while being treated like imbeciles by the board with their continued claims that Stewart’s punishment was for nothing more then ‘drunkeness’.
Gallop is a lawyer, so perhaps his trademark coolness, with a blank face and nasal monotone is all a part of his day to day business. But it made him incredibly hard to warm to even at the best of times. For a sport in which most fans are blue collar, he was never going to be well received.
But for all his mistakes or controversial decisions Gallop has done enough behind the scenes to help the game of rugby league continue to grow. The media and fans primarily focus on the excessive negative side of things. But the fact remains that the quality of NRL matches is excellent these days. Often the worst performing teams are within six points or less of their opposition, and still field a number of rep players.
Across the Tasman, the Auckland Vulcans were welcomed into the NSW Cup competition. While they (the Vulcans) have to fund a large part of the costs (they pay the travel and accommodation costs of the away team when playing at home) the fact that Gallop and the board were willing to support the initiative shows forward thinking, and a choice to take calculated risks for the benefit of the game. By allowing the Vulcans into the Australian they’ve tapped the vast (and largely untapped) New Zealand and Pacific Island talent pool.
It’s unreasonable to expect anyone to please everyone. Being a human bottle neck, and making logical decisions, while trying to balance the emotional aspect is always a losing game. Even the right choice will have it’s detractors.
Gallop might be judged as a person or CEO for the way he handled the many scandals that fell into his lap. But as for being a contributor and positive influence on the game of rugby league, he can probably lay claim to a lot of advances and ideas that we, the public, will never know about (or get excited about even if we did)of which he was an integral part.
After a decade of what David Gallop had to face, his possible replacements might prefer to tackle David Taylor, or Manu Vatuvei head on rather then take that job.