John Grant, the Australian Rugby League Commission chairman, has a lot on his plate, a lot to worry about.
He’s under pressure for not attending Wednesday’s meeting of club chairs and CEOs where the NRL claimed all was under control in the looming negotiations with the players but the smell coming from under the door was decidedly less sweet.
Grant’s organisation is suffering from cash flow problems to the extent that, reportedly, they are getting bank loans and seeking advances from sponsors. This, from an organisation that promised it would assemble cash reserves to at least challenge those of the AFL.
But of all the messes the former Australia winger must clean up, there is one perception he should worry about above all others, one sliding door that the sport’s history will judge particularly harshly.
The widely reported and accepted narrative is this: that he made decisions that may have placed the sport in a precarious position to “save his job”.
Late last year, Grant’s position was being deliberately, methodically, politically undermined by the NRL clubs. He had previous offered those clubs 130 per cent of the salary cap as their annual grant – and then pulled that offer from the table.
The original was portrayed as foolhardy because it gave clubs an incentive to push the cap as high as possible – the more the players got, the more they got – a development that had the potential to inflate the player market and suck resources out of all the other things a national governing body must support.
The offer had been a mistake and, it seemed, the ARLC realised this. What happened next is crucial.
On December 20, the offer of 130 per cent of the salary cap was put back on the table and Grant managed to stave off an insurrection being fomented by some clubs.
As things stand – it’s important Grant understand this – the sport’s history will record that rugby league in Australasia (and, to an extent, everywhere) was imperilled by that decision.
Gold Coast chief executive Graham Annesley this week warned that a $10 million cap would bankrupt clubs, that NRL franchises are currently businesses that spend more than they make and the coming negotiations are a “once in a generation chance” to fix it. He wants the NRL to save the franchises from themselves.
At the moment, Grant faces being remembered as the man who created this mess. Based on what is currently on the public record, Grant could have shown enormous leadership by just walking away – and taking the 130 per cent promise with him.
He would have been remembered as a martyr, a rugby league patriot, a man who rose above the feudal nature of the competition.
But he stuck around and the perception that he put his own desk at League Central above the interests of the game undermines the faith everyone will have in him going forward. The current narrative is one of leadership sadly wonting.
Discord would like to think it isn’t like that at all.
Discord would like to think Grant can come out and explain to us what has really happened.