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NRL boss David Gallop says he’s thrilled with the skills levels on display in the early rounds of 2010, and says the battle plans to ward off AFL are well underway. As told to Big League magazine's Ben Blaschke.<br><br><b>There has been a lot of talk in the pre-season about the administration of rugby league and the formation of an independent commission. Realistically, how close is this away from becoming a reality?</b><br><br>“Well, some big progress was made a fortnight ago (with the ARL coming on board) but there is still a bit of a way to go. Streamlining the organisation is going to be a good thing but the simple strategic imperative of running an exciting competition and being well regarded by the community will stay the same.”<br><b><br>Wayne Bennett has questioned the process for selecting board members for the independent commission. What criteria will you employ for doing so?</b><br><br>“Personally, I would like to see a balance between people that have got rugby league in their blood and people that can bring outside experience across a range of areas, so that the management of the game can pull from different experience and expertise. It needs to give the game the best opportunity to maximise its potential. The goal of the whole things has to be to see a more integrated game – and that means getting the balance right between the professional elite competitions and the thousands of people that are involved in the game just because they love it.”<br><br><b>How do you feel about NRL ‘bad boys’ Todd Carney, Brett Seymour and Greg Bird all returning to the NRL this season?</b><br><br>“Well, it’s really important that there are penalties for their behavior, not only so that those that behave inappropriately bear the consequences of their actions but also as a deterrent to others. At the same time I’ve always said we don’t necessarily want to cast guys adrift for whom football can sometimes be the only steadying influence in their lives. I said to Brett Seymour and Todd Carney that I would love to be looking back in five years’ time saying: ‘Isn’t it great that they turned things around and are now just regarded for their football?’<br><br><b>Is the message getting through?</b><br><br>“I think players are sick and tired of the stigma of being poorly behaved in general. All codes have their issues with young men making mistakes. I think that in years gone by rugby league was looked at as the only code that had these problems – and that simply wasn’t the case. We have to keep dealing with these issues seriously when they arise and if we do that our stakeholders will maintain confidence in our game.”<br><br><b>What is your reaction to rumours that more Newcastle players may be involved in alleged drugs dealings?</b><br><br>“Well, there are always rumours but it’s important that the police and the courts are able to deal with these things. Thus far, Newcastle have dealt with these issues as well as they could.”<br><b><br>Another player that could potentially make a comeback is Sonny Bill Williams. Would he be welcomed?</b><br><br>“Well, he settled a big legal claim with the Bulldogs and he would need to sort all of that out firstly. If that was to happen I would be happy to sit down with him and understand what his plans are. Certainly step one would be to make sure he wasn’t going to walk out again, because he made a lot of people upset and angry. He paid a price for that financially and probably reputation-wise, so I would want to safeguard against any repetition of that. But all of this would rely upon him sorting out his contractual position with the Bulldogs.”<br><br><b>But the door is open?</b><br><br>“I would be cautiously prepared to look into it.”<br><b><br>Are you satisfied with the product of rugby league in 2010?</b><br><br>“I think we finished 2009 on a high and the opening rounds this year have continued to produce a high skill level and a few surprises along the way, so we’re delighted with how the opening rounds have gone. We’re really reaping the benefits of the salary cap system and the evening of the playing talent, as well as getting some recognition for the efforts that our clubs are putting into their role in the community. It is those things that are helping the game enjoy a surge in popularity. The All Stars game gave us a great platform for that, too.”<br><br><b>The NRL has always been diplomatic in its relations with the other codes but with AFL’s push into western Sydney, have the battle lines been drawn?</b><br><br>“We’ve made a conscious decision to put our foot on the pedal. The key strategic point for us is that we don’t operate a draft system and so we’re able to say to young kids: ‘You can grow up, live and play in your own district and go on to become a hero in that district and play for Australia.’ Michael Jennings is a great example of that at the moment. By comparison, while the AFL is attempting to manipulate their draft to look after local kids, you can still end up in Fremantle – and that’s not something that either kids or parents necessarily want to do as a first choice.”<br><br><b>So the NRL won’t contemplate a draft system?</b><br><br>“No.”<br><br><b>Twice now – in last year’s finals series and again last weekend – there has been talk of moving big games to big stadiums without any success in doing so. Is this an area you plan to address?</b><br><br>“People need to appreciate that moving games at short notice is not a simple exercise. You actually risk annoying your key customers – your corporate supporters, your members and others who have committed to the game being played at your venue. We’re all for moving games if it is achievable but doing so on short notice without early communication is a recipe for disaster.”<br><br><b>Is there an early plan in place to avoid fans being locked out come finals time?</b><br><br>“Home finals are a reward for performance over 26 rounds and it’s not fair that players should forgo that when other teams in the competition are receiving the benefit.”<br>
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