NRL tackles declining participation challenge

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg and ARLC chair Peter Beattie have provided a long update on Thursday's commission meeting in at at-times fiery press briefing that covered declining participation and controversial Brisbane prop Matt Lodge, among other topics.

Greenberg said research shows that while overall participation is steady, it is being held up by significant growth in the women's junior game. While boys' participation is steady in markets such as Queensland and country NSW, traditional boys' tackle rugby league in the 13-17 year demographic in metropolitan Sydney is down "a couple of percentage points".

Beattie also stressed his desire to see junior players from outside traditional rugby league cultures, in particular Asian-Australian kids, to get involved in the game.

"There is a genuine challenge for male participation in [the 13-17] age group," Greenberg said.

"The research is telling us that the environment at junior rugby league level, at clubs and grounds, is one of the great problems for us to tackle. Coaching, volunteers, behaviour on sidelines, quality of offering, quality of coaching.

"Some of the reasons kids don't return to rugby league the year after is the environment of their junior rugby league clubs."

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg.
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

This could include parental behaviour and a win-at-all-costs mentality of some junior coaches. Greenberg also suggested mixing up the structure away from the traditional weeknight training, Saturday morning games with Friday night games under discussion.

Beattie made special mention of attracting more Asian-Australian kids to the game.

"I'd like to see more Asian-Australian kids play rugby league and part of that is making it known to them they are welcome in this game," he said.

The pair discussed winding back travel expenditure by having all commissioners travel economy for flights under two hours. This would cover all travel between Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne which makes up the bulk of those trips. Commissioners would also be required to stay in sponsor hotels whenever possible to further save on costs which could be reinvested in the game.

"We have to be in touch with the game. If a commissioner travels and it's less than two hours, it has to be economy. We have to show we're here for the game, not for ourselves," Beattie said.

"I'll sit outside the toilet if it means saving the game money."

Pressed on the controversial decision to allow Brisbane prop Matt Lodge back into the NRL following criminal proceedings in the US and domestic violence revelations, Beattie echoed recent comments by Greenberg that Lodge had undergone significant rehabilitation and the decision wasn't taken lightly.

"None of these decisions are easy. What we've tried to do is give a young man who's shown contrition and been through a whole number of programs and courses another chance," Beattie said.

"We expect him to take advantage of that second chance, we expect him to go through appropriate compensation. The victims can't get compensation if he's not working. I've read all of it, I've seen his denials. All of this was years ago, all of this was taken into account when this evaluation was being made.

ARLC Chair Peter Beattie.
ARLC Chair Peter Beattie. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

"Todd's made the right decision because we're giving him another chance... if he simply gets thrown on the scrapheap, he will never pay compensation back to that family. At the end of it all, we expect him to do that.

"This could have been explained a lot better than it has been. What he did, what programs he went through should have been explained a lot better. We could have handled this a lot better. In future... we will set in place much better communication strategy. This was never going to be a popular decision."

Beattie used the example of Wests Tigers prop Russell Packer, who was allowed back into the game after serving a jail term for assault followed by a lengthy rehabilitation period. As revealed by NRL.com, Packer is on the verge of finalising a $300,000 payout to his victims.

"He's repaying, seeking to repay his victims – that's the point," Beattie said.

"At the end of the day [Lodge,] has to go through a program to try and repay, if he's working he's got a chance to do that."