Galloping off into the sunset with the game in fine shape
Australian Rugby league Commission (and NRL) boss David Gallop has quit the game. At his press conference this afternoon, he said he’d aimed to run an exciting competition where fans believe their team can win on the weekend, and to give the game a good standing in the community. He made a better fist of the former objective than the latter.
A lawyer of little note, Gallop took the helm of the NRL competition in 2002, the year the Rabbitohs were re-admitted after a two year exile. It was also the year rookie coach Ricky Stuart steered the Roosters to grand final success against the Warriors.
Gallop was 36 when he took the job. His hair was already grey, but would likely have ended up that way anyway given the scandals he had to deal with. So then. How to assess his legacy after 10 years as CEO? On balance, I give him about seven out of 10. Let’s break his performance down into a few KPIs, as they say in the corporate world.
Cracking down on cheating: 10 out of 10
The Bulldogs were runaway competition leaders in 2002, but when salary cap rorting was revealed, Gallop unleashed his inner hardarse, stripping the club of all 37 competition points and fining them half a million dollars.
That sent a mighty clear message to everyone bar the bean counters at the Melbourne Storm. In 2010, Gallop went totally medieval on the salary cap cheats, stripping the club of two premierships, a minor premiership and fining them more than one and a half million dollars for their sneaky ways.
Disingenuous Melburnians framed this as a Sydney vs Melbourne thing, but it was never that. Gallop prided himself on an even competition, and hated those who thwarted that aim by foul means.
Player behaviour: 4 out of 10
If Gallop’s was ruthless when cracking down on wayward club officials, he was less effective dealing with unruly players. How many press conferences did the poor bloke give after some absolute idiot had got on the turps and besmirched the name of the game? He must have wished he could cordon off the whole of Kings Cross.
Gallop’s defining moment on the issue of player behaviour came on the Brett Stewart case. The Manly fullback was the face of the 2009 season, and had the odd drink or two at the season launch. He would later face sexual assault charges from an incident which happened later that night, and was eventually acquitted of those charges.
Court proceedings aside, Gallop was angered by Stewart’s drunkenness at the launch and suspended him for four matches. Stewart never considered it a fair reprise, and the two were at war thereafter. The often ugly spat turned funny when Stewart performed a dainty little gallop as part of a try-scoring celebration.
American football has a code whereby officials can fine and/or ban players for off field transgressions, even if they don’t break the law or if they have a case before the courts. Gallop dipped his toes into those waters with his actions on Stewart. There’s a strong argument that he should either have followed through with an American-style policy or butted out altogether.
Crowds: 8 out of 10
Average rugby league crowds were 13,000 in 2002. They’ve been over 16,000 since 2009 and are climbing towards 17,000 this year. AFL fans will sneer at those raw numbers, but in relative terms, a rise of 30 per cent in a decade is not too bad.
Indeed, the NRL crowd surge looks especially impressive when you consider AFL crowds jumped about 12 per cent between 2002 and 2010, but have since levelled off at 2002 numbers this year with the introduction of the expansion teams.
Attempted World Domination: 5 out of 10
The only new clubs to emerge over the course of the Gallop era were the Gold Coast Titans and the return of the Manly Sea Eagles, after the demise of the hideous two-headed beast known as the Northern Eagles.
Clubs in WA, PNG, Central Queensland and the NSW Central Coast all have impressive little PowerPoint packages ready to screen to the next CEO. At some point, that person will have to decide if they want new teams, and whether some of the perennial Sydney stragglers need to merge. Gallop assiduously avoided this issue over his tenure. At some point, something’s gotta give in a city with nine teams while Brisbane continues to have just one. There’s a nice challenge for the new guy.
Making rugby league the people’s game: 6 out of 10
OK, so we’ve had a slick, inoffensive guy in a suit running this thing for 10 years. So has rugby league become the sport of the people in his time? It has, but only if by “the people”, you mean the people who don’t wear suits. League still does not command the average white collar sports lover, partly because of a sport called rugby union, partly because of a sport called AFL, and partly because it is hopelessly and tragically bogan. That’s not snooty. It’s just fact.
Rugby league gives itself away with its choice of season theme songs. When you repeatedly go to the shelf containing hits from Bon Jovi and the Hoodoo Gurus (otherwise known as the Triple M CD library) you know you’re pitching to boofheads and bourbon drinkers. If you doubt this, watch The Footy Show. It’s great that a traditional working class sport continues to maintain a huge fanbase from that demographic in Australia’s two most populous states. But if Gallop had aimed to draw in people who drink wine from bottles instead of casks, he failed.
The onfield action: 7 out of 10
Seems like every week during the last ten years, we’ve seen a new illegal playing tactic. The chicken wing tackle, the grapple tackle, wrestling, you name it. These things tend to be stamped out only when The Daily Telegraph does a bit of campaigning on the game’s behalf. David Gallop was particularly reactive on issues like this.
Dual referees were brought in during Gallop’s tenure, but surprise surprise, all they’ve done is make arguments over dodgy decisions rage twice as hard.
This much must be said. The game itself is more entertaining than ever. Almost every forward has some ball handling skills these days, while the array of kicks utilised by backline stars is starting to make even Andrew Johns seem a very distant memory.
People who bag league as boring because it’s five tackles then a kick, five tackles then a kick really haven’t watched the game lately. The game is much more entertaining than ever before, and that reflects the professionalism of sport in 2012. Gallop can’t claim much credit for it, though.
The game’s future: 8 out of 10
David Gallop gave a beautiful quote today. He said: “The game does have a unique ability to attack itself, and that passion needs to be harnessed in the right way.”
If the game achieves a $1 billion TV deal, or something even close to that, Gallop will rightly be seen as the man who positioned it into the sporting big time.
As a sports administrator, he wasn’t as bold as Andrew Demetriou, or as charismatic as Andrew Demetriou thinks Andrew Demetriou is, but Gallop was steady and effective. Given rugby league was still recovering from the Super League civil war when he took over in 2002 , he was a good, safe pair of hands to throw the pill to. On balance, well played, D Gallop.
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