So far, 97 per cent of players, coaches and support staff have received the flu shot but a small group of “eight to 10 players”, according to NRL sources, won’t allow it because of their religious, cultural or anti-vaccination beliefs.
That includes Titans forward Bryce Cartwright and Raiders trio Josh Papalii, Sia Soliola and Joseph Tapine.
Good luck to them. They can believe what they want.
I’m no fan of the flu shot myself because it makes me sick for weeks, although I’d let them inject it into my eyeballs if it meant I was still getting paid in these uncertain times as people lose their jobs and businesses.
The issue for these NRL players, though, isn’t the flu shot. It’s the waiver that indemnifies the NRL should they get sick … for not taking the flu shot.
Earlier this week, the players and their wives got their heads together and decided to sign the waiver — but run a big red line through the parts of it they didn’t like, just to make a point.
It forced the commission to meet on Thursday to address yet another impasse on the road to a May 28 restart. The wording of the waiver was tinkered with and the Rugby League Players Association assured them the renegade players would sign it.
Nevertheless, their stubbornness shouldn’t be forgotten in a hurry. Indeed, it’s hard to recall a more selfish act from the players in recent weeks.
Quite simply, if you baulk at signing a waiver, because of some grand sense of pride, then don’t expect to play, let alone get paid.
Some serious questions have to be asked of the RLPA about the way this has played out. The idea of compulsory flu shots has been spoken about for weeks. Why wasn’t this issue addressed sooner than the restart of training on Wednesday?
The players’ union has also allowed the small yet vocal and aggressive anti-vaccination lobby to muscle in on the game as the federal and state governments closely watch the NRL and every move it makes.
Which brings us back to the COVID-19 vaccination, because you can bet the state and federal governments will be watching then, too.
How will the game respond if these players again dig in their heels and refuse to take the shot — and without a waiver of any kind to run a red line through?
Gallop still in rugby race
Former NRL and FFA boss David Gallop was sounded out to become Rugby Australia’s interim chief executive before the role was given to former Melbourne Rebels boss Rob Clarke.
Gallop would’ve been ideal in helping the bumbling code land a broadcast deal, just as he did with the A-League. He also has a strong relationship with former Ten boss Hamish McLennan, who is expected to become chairman.
It’s understood that a couple RA directors approached Gallop, but in the end the board opted for Clarke. Still, it wouldn’t surprise if Gallop — one of the country’s most experienced sports administrators — was approached to take on the role full-time.
There was a buzz about Gallop replacing Raelene Castle, who quit the RA job last month, at Lachlan Murdoch’s Christmas party at his Bellevue Hill home in December last year.
The game would be lucky to have him given the messy events of the past week. Private equity veteran Peter Wiggs was looming as rugby’s saviour. In just 37 days as a director, he negotiated a pay deal with fed-up players and helped untangle some of RA’s dire financial situation following Castle’s sudden departure.
On Monday night, he agreed to take on the chairmanship but only on the condition that AOC boss Matt Carroll was his chief executive and John O’Neill came onto the board.
Some directors pushed back on the idea and Wiggs, furious about not getting his way, dropped the mic, walked off stage and resigned in a petulant email to interim chairman Paul McLean.
It would be incorrect to say board members rejected the Wiggs-Carroll partnership for one reason alone. But Wiggs’ call for O’Neill to become a director was a significant blunder. O’Neill is greatly admired, but also has many detractors. Wiggs overplayed his hand.
There was also a fear among some directors about his motives. His company, Archer Capital, bought the underperforming Supercars in 2011. Was he trying to do something similar with rugby?
Jordan comparison an air-swing
South Sydney captain Adam Reynolds reckons the media scrutiny of superstar fullback Latrell Mitchell is similar to that faced by the greatest athlete who’s ever lived, Michael Jordan.
Um, come again?
“The media keep bashing him up and I don’t know if you’ve watched the documentary about the Chicago Bulls and what they did to Jordan,” Reynolds argued this week. “They almost lost him to the game … and I’d hate to see us lose Latrell to all this media pressure.”
I’m not entirely sure how someone who has watched The Last Dance can draw those parallels.
The media pack shadowing Jordan throughout his career was enormous, on a daily basis, no matter where he was in the world.
But he was mostly worn down by reports that he bullied his teammates, something explored in great detail in the 1992 book The Jordan Rules.
Then came stories about his notorious gambling. The final straw were theories that the murder of his father James in 1993 was payback for unpaid gambling debts.
Jordan quit the Bulls and soon after joined baseball’s Birmingham Barons – a minor league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox – before returning to the NBA.
Mitchell hasn’t endured anything of that nature. He hasn’t endured anything in the same postcode as other rugby league players before him, from Andrew Johns to Sam Burgess to Cameron Smith.
TV reporters doorknocking Mitchell, as Reynolds suggested, is regrettable but not the norm.
The most vicious scrutiny has been on social media, an online swamp that he and any other player can jump out of at any stage.
“Today, I ask the ‘Hand of God’ to end this pandemic so the people can live their lives again, healthy and happy. No one is Rambo to win this war, because even Rambo loses against this virus.” — Diego Maradona with some disturbing news that not even Rambo cannot beat COVID-19.
If you aren’t listening to Roy and HG’s Bludging on the Blindside podcast in these lonely times, then you may as well go and lick a handrail or some other highly contagious surface.
Victoria Police has suspended two officers over the alleged leaking of photos of former AFL coach Dean Laidley inside a St Kilda Road police station while in police custody. Pretty sure that’s not allowed.
It’s a big weekend for … Korean Baseball League as Samsung, LG and KIA go head to head in a ding-dong battle for baseball, flat screen TV and budget motor vehicle supremacy.
It’s an even bigger weekend for … NRL players, whose clubs are expected to make them train all weekend to make up for lost time having had the last six weeks off.
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.