Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken”.
These words should be sprawled through the corridors of Rugby League Central, nailed to the foreheads of NRL executives and written in the sky for every club marketing employee in the competition to see.
With the current drug scandal engulfing the Gold Coast Titans, it might be hard to argue that the game needs larrikins, jokesters and blokes that like a beer or a good time at their local pub. But we also need to remember what rugby league was built on and how the game links the elite player to the family in the suburbs.
More now than ever, we need the characters.
In recent times the NRL has done a good job in alienating the fans. While CEO Dave Smith and company sit comfortably in the swank, high-end of town, the fans well below them struggle to pay bills, mortgages and school fees. But most of the time, you’ll still see these same fans turning up to watch their team play despite the ridiculous pricing of tickets, food and scheduling of matches. These are the same mums and dads that wake up at 6am Saturday mornings in the middle of winter, after slaving away all week at work, to take their children to play the game they love.
The question is however, how long will these families keep showing up?
Where is the real incentive?
There is a fine line at the moment that the NRL must take on. At the moment, it seems their content to let the players lock themselves away until game day.
For too long, journalists have complained that access to players is limited and when they are allowed to speak, it’s generally a cliché rolled out for the sake of saying it. The players want to talk, they want to be themselves, they want to tell the rugby league world what they really thought of the weekend’s game or the current affairs of the NRL.
How can the game not use one of their best marketing tool which just so happens to be the players?
The NRL needs more than just an Israel Folau or a Sonny Bill Williams.
You could go out and buy Chris Gayle if you really wanted.
But is he going to connect with the fans?
The razzle dazzle only gets you some of the way but what fills the rest of the gaps?
The laugh of Johnathan Thurston, the brutally candid nature of Willie Mason and the keg on legs we call ‘Gorgeous’ George Rose.
Who replaces them when they go?
The droll barbeque king James Maloney, the smiling assassin Sam Thaiday or the viking James Graham.
Where is the next crop of characters coming from?
Rugby league is in serious trouble when these guys finally retire because who really wants to listen to a robot churn out ten minutes of crap?
It’s not us, it’s not rugby league.
The game and its administrators have an obligation to entertain us long before and long after that siren goes.
Because once everyone and everything is the same, we’re doomed.
Nobody is saying let players run rampant, snorting coke and bingeing to their hearts content, but what’s so wrong with a guy that speaks his mind in front of the camera?
What’s happened to us?
Maybe it’s too late, maybe the robots have already won.