New low for Aussie rugby league

2011-06-01 08:39

Sydney – Australia’s scandal-prone National Rugby League (NRL) has endured violence, drunkenness, drugs and even simulated bestiality, but the scourge of spot-fixing has dragged its image to another new low.

Although images of “footy” players in court is nothing new for the Australian public, police charges last week against a former Canterbury Bulldogs forward over an organised betting scam were particularly unwelcome.

The charges against Ryan Tandy, 29, come after a police task force was set up to investigate unusual betting activity surrounding last August’s round 24 NRL match between the Bulldogs and North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville.

Tandy is accused of deliberately giving away an early penalty in front of the Bulldogs’ posts to favour anyone who had bet on the Cowboys scoring first with a penalty goal.

Punters stood to gain more than A$300 000 (R2.2 million) from the kick after an unusual betting plunge that prompted several bookmakers to stop taking wagers, reports said. In the event, the Cowboys took a tap penalty and scored a try.

Player manager Sam Ayoub, 49, and former player John Elias, 48, were previously charged with attempting to gain a financial advantage by deception in relation to the match. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Tandy, who has also been charged with four counts of lying to a New South Wales state crime commission hearing into the betting scandal and has been sacked by the Bulldogs, is due to face court in July.

While the matter lies before the courts, it raises uncomfortable questions about the NRL and the marriage of two great Australian pastimes: sport and betting.

It also extends a litany of sins in the NRL, half-owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp empire, which now stretches from petty drunken mayhem to organised scams and boardroom-level cheating following last year’s salary cap scandal.
And harassed NRL chief executive David Gallop appears powerless to stem the tide.

Only last month, former Newcastle Knights forward Danny Wicks was banned by the NRL for four years following his admission of trafficking methyl amphetamine and tablets. He is now awaiting sentence.

Former Test star Reni Maitua has only just returned to the field with the Parramatta Eels after a two-year ban for taking clenbuterol, which he admitted using to mask recreational drug use.

Todd Carney, awarded the Dally M Medal as last season’s top player, is rarely out of the newspapers. He is now back in action after a three-week suspension by his Sydney Roosters club over a late-night drinking session.

Carney, who this year narrowly avoided jail for drink-driving but had his licence revoked for 10 months, was sacked by his former club Canberra and deregistered for the 2009 season after a string of alcohol-fuelled incidents.

The NRL convulsed last year when leading club Melbourne Storm were found to have breached their salary cap, and as a result were stripped of their 2007 and 2009 championship titles and received massive fines.

Following the systemic cheating uncovered by the NRL’s administration, a report recommended that the Storm’s former chief executive, Brian Waldron, and three other officials should never be allowed to work in the rugby league again.

The report described a “toxic culture of deceit” which saw cheating of the league’s salary cap as “a bit of a game”.

The avalanche of problems has continued this season with the league’s “poster boy”, Benji Marshall, charged with assault arising from an early hours incident at a Sydney fast food outlet.

Australian Test forward Anthony Watmough and a team-mate were arrested and fined this year, and later docked a week’s wages, for urinating on a shop late one night.

Last November former Australian Test back Joel Monaghan admitted simulating a sex act with a dog in a drunken moment of “abject stupidity”.

The incident set a new standard in squalor after the Roosters’ Nate Myles was caught drunkenly defecating in a hotel corridor in July 2009.

Shortly before that incident, the sport had been rocked by revelations over a group sex incident involving one of its legends, Matthew Johns, who lost his job as a TV pundit afterwards.

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