Rugby league cops another black eye
NATIONAL Rugby League administrators are anxiously counting down to when the ref blows the whistle on Friday night to start the 2011 season. Then media attention can focus on the on-field deeds of players and not just what they are getting up to off it. The NRL has been cursed recently in its attempts to find a ‘‘ cleanskin’’ poster boy to promote its game. Wests Tigers star Benji Marshall was seen as one of the best options to fill that role – a clean-living superstar of the game who is popular across all demographics. Just what the game needs to promote itself in 2011, right? Wrong. Yesterday afternoon Marshall, who launched the season last week, was charged with assault following an altercation outside a Sydney fast-food outlet in the early hours of Saturday morning. Marshall was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm after being interviewed by detectives at North Sydney Police Station yesterday. He is understood to have retaliated after being racially abused by a 24-year-old man who later reported the matter to police. If the circumstances surrounding the incident as they have been reported are correct, then many would understand Marshall reacting the way he did and forgive him. Unfortunately, one of the prices of being a highprofile sportsman like Marshall is the unwanted attention you attract. This includes unsavoury comments directed at you while you are quietly going about your business, often in the company of friends and family. Marshall will now be wishing he had turned the other cheek and simply walked away from the incident. He may have been left fuming but it would not be the major issue it has become as we count down to a new NRL season. NRL chief David Gallop must have little hair left to tear out. He must dread reading, listening or watching the news each morning for fear of the game copping another black eye courtesy of players not behaving off the field. The NRL and the Tigers are unlikely to take any action against Marshall until it is sorted out through the legal process and the real facts become known. The only good news for the NRL is that when the season starts this weekend, rugby league fans will be concentrating on how their team goes with all the optimism that a fresh season brings. For a short time at least the attention will be focused on what NRL players are capable of on the field and not off it. Recent history shows, however, that it will be only a matter of time before another player disgraces himself and sees the code’s name again dragged through the mud.