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The Mick Fuller fiasco is an embarrassment for the NRL and V’landys

Just hours after the story broke last Thursday morning about V’landys approaching Fuller to come onto the board, the NRL was backgrounding reporters that Berejiklian had given her tacit approval.

When I interviewed Fuller at lunchtime that day, he left me with the impression the job was his to take if he wanted it, although admitted there was a “process” that needed to be completed over the next “48 hours”.

Peter V’Landys and Mick Fuller.

Peter V’Landys and Mick Fuller.Credit:Janie Barret, Jessica Hromas

At about 9pm, after the story had been online for hours, Berejiklian’s office called to say that approval hadn’t been sought, let alone given.

The story was changed online and for later editions of the newspaper. Some media outlets did not alter their stories.

In typical V’landys style, he kept barging ahead, crashing through perceived conflicts of interest for Fuller and growing scepticism from some within rugby league about whether Fuller’s presence on the commission would seriously prevent a drunken young player from doing something silly at 3am.

Ooh! Mick Fuller’s on the board. Better not kick the shit out of this car door in front of that CCTV camera over there … Who’s Mick Fuller again?

Of course, Fuller would’ve brought much more to the table given his decades of experience in policing and other areas — but it remained problematic for a score of reasons nonetheless.

Having refused to speak publicly about Fuller for days, V’landys felt emboldened enough by Sunday to tell Danny Weidler in the Sun-Herald he wanted Fuller, 52, on the commission because of an alarming link between players and organised crime figures.

“There is a bigger problem facing the game that Mick needs to help us with and that is making sure the players are not associating with criminal figures, whether that be with those in the underworld or those with links to unsavoury people,” V’landys said.

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The assuredness of V’landys’ comments, about a trend that was first highlighted through the 2011 peptide scandal and the infamous “darkest day in Australian sport press conference”, suggested Fuller’s appointment was a done deal.

But the stroke of Berejiklian’s pen never came.

By the end of the day, the whole thing had collapsed for “legal reasons”. Apparently, Fuller cannot have a paid gig on the side while also having a day job that’s paid by the taxpayers of NSW.

That’s a not-so-minor detail you would’ve thought someone might have checked before the public offensive started about Fuller coming onto the commission.

On Monday morning, it was difficult separating fact from fiction about how something so great for the game could evaporate in a puff of smoke.

It has been suggested that V’landys had been told by Police Minister David Elliott that Fuller had Berejiklian’s approval. Her office remains adamant that’s not the case.

This is the first serious slip of the shiny crown V’landys has been wearing since he saved rugby league from the savage clutches of COVID-19.

He was at his Machiavellian best during those heady days of the pandemic, thundering towards a May 28 restart for the competition. The game’s parlous financial state, especially in respect to most of its clubs, meant it couldn’t dilly-dally.

But there was also a sense of vanity in it all, too, which is something people don’t want to hear because heaven forbid someone writes a bad word about The Great PVL.

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He wanted to get going again before the AFL. And he did. Cop that, Melbourne. In doing so, by putting the May 28 marker firmly in the ground, he bent both state and federal governments around his will by making announcements before they even happened.

It’s an extraordinary gift, one that has served him well in his day-time job of racing and now for rugby league. But this time, with the pursuit of Fuller, the crash-through-or-crash style has backfired.

V’landys last year established a nominations sub-committee to come up with potential candidates for vacant positions on the commission. Some of them had no clue about the Fuller approach.

Sure, the chairman’s belligerent style is refreshing after years of indecision and vacillation from the people who run the game. Many stakeholders were prepared to get out of his way last year as he worked his magic.

But there’s a growing feeling that he’s been reading too much of his own favourable press.

Dramatic rule changes based on a fan’s email, the nostalgic-yet-impractical return of three grades on game day, and the botched appointment of Fuller, are airswings.

The Great PVL has been great for the alleged greatest game of all. But he will start losing serious support if he thinks rugby league can be run as a benevolent dictatorship.

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