Panthers lock Trent Merrin.

It has been a very dark week for Australian sport.

Waking up to the news on Sunday morning of the Australian cricketers’ ball tampering saga over in South Africa, I was shocked, disappointed and devastated.

It put the integrity of the whole game of cricket in jeopardy, and as an Aussie fan I was deeply embarrassed.

You’re probably wondering why you are reading about cricket on a rugby league website – and fair enough – but stick with me because I’ll get to the point soon.

One positive that came out of the situation was how the Australian public stood for what was right. Fans vehemently rejected the actions of Cameron Bancroft, Steve Smith and the leadership group, highlighting how supporters of the code demand integrity.

Rugby league can learn a lot from the events of the past week. 

The NRL has had its fair share of controversy and scandal. This week alone we’ve seen the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles hit with salary cap breaches, with administrators Joe Kelly and Neil Bare stood down, while the Newcastle Knights sacked Dylan Phythian for breaching the game’s illicit drugs policy.

Fans are tired of seeing controversy dominating the news headlines. Fans want to be proud of their game. It’s time we put an emphasis on building integrity in our game – it’s a culture we can create.

Integrity in the game begins at the grassroots level and we all have a role to play. It’s parents setting high standards with the way they speak in front of their kids to coaches and referees. It’s fans at games respecting diverse cultures even when they’re on the opposite team. It’s respecting the referee’s judgements even when they’ve made a blunder. It’s players honouring the game on and off the field. It’s officials sticking with the game’s guidelines and not cutting corners to gain an advantage for their rugby league club.  

Even though negative stories often dominate the media, there’s a lot of good to be found in rugby league. 

Take Trent Merrin as an example. He launched a unique social media campaign to get Australia talking about youth mental health. #MoveOutOfYourHead encourages people of all ages to film themselves doing a dance and upload it to social media, then challenge a friend to do the same. 

Or Sam Tagataese who won the Ken Stephen Medal last year for his work within the community, most significantly with Borderless Community Services, an organisation that provides fresh food and support for families in need. 

When we look for it, it’s not hard to find players who embody integrity on and off the field. It’s easy to focus on our failures but it’s important to celebrate our successes as the game moves forward together. 

This week in Big League we celebrate one of the greats of the game, Greg Inglis. He chats about breaking down stigmas of mental health. It’s not weak to speak about it and ask for help. He shares about his struggles while injured last year and how he felt lonely away from the team environment, but after seeking help he’s back on the right path.

Happy Easter everyone. Have a great weekend with your family, and if you get the chance, there are some cracking games of footy to get out to. 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.