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Fans deserve better than watching supposedly professional NRL teams give up

Watching a handful of NRL teams simply turn up their toes and fail to compete in Round 23 was an insult to their respective fans and the competition as a whole.

Not that we haven’t seen it before and the drubbings dished out over the weekend just passed have become increasingly common across recent seasons. However, the efforts mustered by four clubs and the subsequent lop-sided and almost comical defeats were anything but professional.

UK-based corporate finance firm Oakwell Sports Advisory valued the NRL at $3.1 billion in 2020, domestic broadcast rights numbers have been widely publicised and the Australian Rugby League Commission reported a $43.1 million surplus in 2021.

Those are the stakes the NRL plays with each and every week, when 16 clubs take to the field to excite their fans, compete and generate the revenue required to see rugby league continue to grow in the future.

The nature of such professionalism demands that well-paid and pampered NRL players come to the party no matter their team’s position on the ladder, irrespective of how close an end-of-season trip might seem and regardless of whether the jersey they wear might be of a different colour the following season.

What the Sea Eagles, Bulldogs, Tigers and Warriors dished up in Round 23 was the antithesis of that professionalism.

Sure, we can all see the deficiencies in their squads, the injuries affecting them and understand that semi-final play will not be happening in 2022. However, the four matches that involved the teams listed above drew a collective 71,037 people who were hoping for a contest.

While fans of the Roosters, Cowboys and Eels were cock-a-hoop as their teams ran in try after try on home soil, the Manly fans in the 12,243 crowd who turned up at 4 Pines Park to watch the Sea Eagles capitulate against the Sharks deserved their money back and an apology.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The unprofessionalism of the efforts and the inherent psychology behind them is a fascinating watch.
Seemingly now a rabble, the Sea Eagles’ season left the tracks late last month as soon as seven players decided that their professional wage did not directly correlate to their professional responsibilities.

As such, it is no wonder the disharmonious group dished up such a poor and uncommitted performance against the Sharks, with their commitment and professional approach to the cause seriously in question.

After something of a mid-season revival, the Bulldogs’ frailty in defence against a rampant Eels showed that Canterbury have well and truly switched off for 2022.

The 84 points conceded across the last two rounds are evidence of that, with the signing of new coach Cameron Ciraldo potentially signalling a pointlessness to the remainder of the season from the players’ perspective. Perhaps there is simply no motivation remaining to impress interim coach Mick Potter.

The Warriors were once again awful in their 44-point loss to the Cowboys in north Queensland and either side of the Round 22 win against the Bulldogs, have conceded 48 points per week.

The less said about the Tigers’ 72-6 loss to the Roosters on Sunday the better, with no other explanation required other than the fact that Wests failed to compete.

Wests Tigers players look dejected after conceding a try

(Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

Whilst the end of season floggings will throw up the usual discussions around parity in the competition and potentially finding ways to ensure that interest is maintained in the majority of fan-bases right up until the final whistle is blown in Round 25, that simply cannot occur if players choose to switch off and go through the motions across the final month of a disappointing season.

In reality, that is exactly what is occurring and it is simply unprofessional, disrespectful to club members and fans, as well as being problematic for the bean counters at the NRL.

The weekend score lines would have been far different had the four culprits been playing for their lives and in fear of relegation to a second tier competition.

However, that is not how the NRL operates, thus creating a comfy space for the also-rans to limp home with little or no determination to do anything but stay healthy and play for what should be a well-deserved break come the end of the season.

Thus, we are in for a few further bashings in the next fortnight, with fatigue no doubt cited as the reason for the drop off in performance.

It is interesting that those still in the hunt for the premiership will offer no excuse and nor should any professional athlete.

Those destined for an early finish in 2022 should remain as committed and passionate as they were in the opening week of the season.

That is what professional athletes do, with pride in the jersey and their own performance overriding any feelings apathy and disappointment.

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