NRL must tackle betting scandals before it becomes the new cricket
Punting Ace’s Nick Tedeschi writes:
The NRL cannot afford to sit on its hands as the ICC has done. Rugby league cannot afford to weather the decline cricket has in the last decade. Any stench of match-fixing or spot-fixing in rugby league will significantly marginalise the code in the most competitive sporting marketplace in the world.
For two weeks, rumours have circulated in both rugby league and gambling circles that a rort was on in the North Queensland-Canterbury match in Round 24. There was a significant and disproportionate amount of money for the first scoring play in the match to be a Cowboys penalty goal with betting agencies reporting that punters stood to win between $250,000 and $500,000 with the TAB reporting that 95% of the hold on the match was for the minor option of the first scoring play being a Cowboys penalty goal. The price shifted from $13.0 into $3.0.
The first 90 seconds of the match played out just as the punters had hoped. Canterbury received the kickoff before prop Ryan Tandy lost the ball in the first tackle. Tandy then gave away the most obvious penalty of the season under the posts when laying all over Grant Rovelli. The alleged plot then came unstuck when hooker Anthony Watts quickly tapped the ball and the Cowboys scored a try.
The finger has been pointed at Bulldogs prop Ryan Tandy who has categorically denied the allegations.
It is not the first suspicious match the NRL has seen at this time of year. The Roosters-Cowboys match last season was the subject of a large investigation with the match suspected of being fixed while the Roosters-Canterbury and Roosters-Melbourne matches at the backend of 2009 were also considered suspicious. A Roosters-Canterbury match in 2005 held similar suspicions though no investigation was forthcoming.
It is also not the first match that has seen some dubious betting activity this year with South Sydney-Parramatta, South Sydney-Melbourne and the Tigers-Melbourne matches all viewed with some distrust by bookmakers due to unusual betting activity.
The NRL investigation into the alleged Cowboys-Bulldogs rort follows explosive evidence that spot-fixing is rampant in the Pakistani cricket team and that Australia’s remarkable comeback in the Sydney Test earlier this year may have been fixed.
Cricket has undergone a major decline in popularity in Australia, and almost everywhere outside of the subcontinent, over the last decade and a significant reason for the decline has been the pall of match-fixing that has hung over the sport for over a decade going back to the bans of Saleem Malik, Mohammad Azharudin and Hansie Cronje. Cricket is viewed as doing very little to investigate and prevent match-fixing and spot-fixing and now the entire sport is tainted by the continued questioning of each game’s legitimacy.
The NRL cannot afford a similar pall to be cast over rugby league. As such, the NRL needs to come down with a heavy hand on any player found to be involved in match-fixing or spot-fixing. Those found guilty need to be banned for life. There can be no other option. No action can damage the image of a sport more than match-fixing. It is worse than performance enhancing drugs, worse than off-field misbehaviour, worse than on-field violence and worse than referee underperformance.
The NRL should take similar action against any manager, former player or gambler found to be involved. If a manager is found to have played any part in orchestrating the rort, he should have his accreditation stripped for life. If said manager is found guilty of trying to profit off the stunt without informing the NRL, he should lose his accreditation for a significant period of time. If a former player is found to have been involved, they should be barred from the game for life. Any person found guilty of participating in match or spot fixing should be warned off from all NRL grounds just as crooked punters and licensed persons are warned off racetracks.
The NRL has done the right thing in referring this matter to the police. They now need to be adequately prepared to dish out hefty punishments to those found to be involved.
The reputation of the NRL is on the line here. They must not act meek. They must bring the hammer down hard on any person involved in any form of match-fixing or spot-fixing. Failure to do so will do untold damage to the code.