High horse Gallop

If evidence was still required that the 2009 mistreatment of Brett Stewart still rankles out Manly way, it was delivered in spades on Monday night when Brett Stewart celebrated his 100th try in first grade with a celebratory “Gallop” around the in-goal area, telling reporters afterwards “it was good being back having a gallop” (double entendre no doubt intended).

David Gallop himself expressed surprise that Stewart would “constantly draw attention” to the 4 week suspension meted out to him by the NRL in 2009 for alleged drunken misconduct. What was unsurprising is that Gallop remains stoically domiciled in his opinion that he “remains comfortable with the action we took in relation to the player and the club’s conduct at its 2009 season launch”.

How exactly is that David? Let’s roll the tape back a bit.

The 4 week suspension was meted out after the infamous Manly season launch of 2009. It was a night that exploded into spectacular media hysteria when star fullback Stewart was accused of sexual misconduct by a teenager as he made his way to the front door of his apartment where his girlfriend was waiting for him. Stewart had just been announced as one of two faces of the NRL advert to launch the 2009 season, and the alleged offense occurred on the weekend before the season kicked off proper.

Within days the NRL had taken a draconian stance, suspending Stewart for four weeks for allegedly being intoxicated in a public place and also fined the Manly club $100,000. Ironically the other face of the same advert, Greg Inglis, later that year ran foul of authorities after allegedly assaulting his girlfriend – a charge that eventually saw him compelled by a court to attend a men’s behavioral program after he admitted to the assault.

Brett Stewart’s day in court came in September 2010 and ended with him being cleared of all charges. During a two-week trial several things became evident – the girl in question was exposed as an unreliable witness with mental health issues. The only other supposed witness, her father, was exposed as having a significant criminal history, including fraud, and is subject to ongoing criminal cases for similar offenses. And importantly police attending the scene on the night in question gave clear and compelling testimony that Stewart was at all time courteous, cooperative and did not appear intoxicated.

Under oath, in a court of law, these police officers clearly established Stewart’s behaviour and demeanor, and all were positive about his condition and cooperation. It’s a compelling counter-argument for the rationale put up by the NRL for the suspension of Stewart, and the fine given to Manly. A rationale of the NRL that included Stewart as face of the game, and the weekend being the one before the season kicked off, being subject to “double demerit points” for transgressions – presumably perceived or otherwise.

Brett Stewart on the fly

Earlier this year no action was forthcoming from the NRL when the new faces of Rugby League were embroiled in legal dramas in the same double demerit period. Benji Marshall was accused of assault occasioning bodily harm, last year’s Dally M winner Todd Carney, a repeat offender, was charged with drink driving and then bought the game into further disrepute by hitting the town after supposedly swearing off the booze. He returns to the field with no comment or discipline from the NRL this weekend.

So David, tell us again how you remain “comfortable with the action we took in relation to the player and the club’s conduct at its 2009 season launch”? How does Stewart’s quest for an apology for this defamatory suspension take away from his achievement of 100 tries?

As I see it the two are intrinsically linked. This is Brett Stewart, who apart from one night of false accusations has been an ornament to the game, and has shouldered more than his fair share of charity work, particularly with kids suffering from diabetes, an affliction he shares with them. Notching 100 tries is a remarkable achievement, but until the smear against his name of that four week suspension is removed, all of his achievements are tainted, through no fault of his own. So what better platform for him to state his case for justice than when he celebrated a significant milestone that few players achieve?

The real story here is what this ongoing saga tells us about the sorry administration of Gallop and his NRL. His imposition of the four-week suspension was typically reactionary knee-jerk policy in the first place, driven by media hysteria. His continued defense of the indefensible, that the NRL acted appropriately in the case of Brett Stewart, betrays the bunker mentality of insidious group-think that seems to proliferate within NRL headquarters and spreads in cancerous tentacles around the entire game.

The fair-minded person (particularly anyone who has bothered to trawl through the transcripts of the court case where police testimony demolished the case of the prosecution AND the NRL) can quickly conclude that Stewart’s four week suspension was erroneous. And if they put themselves in Brett Stewart’s situation they would quickly understand that a simple “I’m sorry” would go a long way to salving the wounds it inflicted.

But all of this seems to go over the head of Gallop and his minions sitting comfortably within their citadel of ignorance. It stretches far beyond the Stewart case, it’s seen in the blight of officialdom where calamitous mistakes by video refs that decide games are greeted with paltry one week slap-on-the-wrist “stand downs” in shortened weeks where their services were not required anyway. Where is the accountability?

It is seen in the years and years of refusal to address issues of concern like the toll on rep players of backing up for club after Test matches, and the inability to provide a schedule of games more than 5 weeks in advance to enable interstate fans to watch their favourite team.

I could go on but the gist is clear. Where Gallop and his lackeys seem to think they’re doing a good job, it is incomprehensible to the man in the street that this man and his administration could even be considered worthy of continuing if and when an independent commission for rugby league is established. From the first day Gallop’s reign was doleful, a po-faced lawyer without a feel for the game installed as a reward for his services to News Limited in the Super League war.

His legacy will be a reign of error that has held the game of League back while at the same time AFL and the A-League have surged ahead. Where league proliferates it is in spite of his administration rather than because of it – even his abject mediocrity finds it impossible to totally subjugate such a quality, made-for-TV product.

Humility. “The quality of being modest, reverential, even politely submissive, and never being arrogant, contemptuous, rude or even self-abasing.” This is not the virtue of an NRL administration that fails to acknowledge it failures and deep inconsistency. It’s time Gallop humbled himself, came off his high horse, and acknowledged Brett Stewart’s rightful quest for justice, regardless of the cost. It’s time for him to do the right thing, not the expedient thing. Who knows, it could be the first step to redemption of his parlous reign and the dawn of a golden age for the NRL.

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One Response to High horse Gallop

  1. MUM SAYS says:

    Excellent read… needed to be said, so not before it’s time. How much does a “sorry” cost? The return of the fine would be good too!

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