The Last Word with Bill Woods
Thursday 28 March 2013 12:00 PM
I remember back in the late 80s one of the first rugby league stories I shot for television news was on a raw, lanky young centre from the bush called Jamie Corcoran. Peter “Bullfrog” Moore had found Jamie a council job driving a tractor, and that’s where we conducted the interview. In those days clubs knew it was important to give their players work, something to ground them and socialise them with average people. It also helped them learn skills they could take into life after rugby league.
How things changed. Massive amounts of money were pumped into the game and demands on players grew more attuned to the show: more training, more public appearances and more regimental lifestyles. One thing that remained was the perennial problem of generations: young men are often irresponsible.
So after some very dangerous years and many repulsive headlines clubs started to go back to the old ways. The Canterbury Bulldogs are now among the league leaders in their programs to educate and develop players for life outside of, and after, their rugby league careers. Even the best and most injury free players will be earning large amounts of money for only about a 5th of their working age.
Each team is made up of different personalities and when you meet players you can often spot which direction they’ll take after the NRL. The quiet sensible ones often wind up in ambassadorial or development roles. Andrew Ryan has been working for the NRL in welfare and education. Hazem El Masri has also been employed by the NRL as a One Community ambassador. The outgoing ones find media jobs. Wendell Sailor and Freddy Fittler are just two examples whose distinctive personalities have added much to the coverage of the game. Analytical types like Sterlo, Gus Gould and Ben Ikin can turn their hands to coaching or the media, where they can deal with the tactical commentary.
Some have a plan. They might have done business studies with a view to starting their own company or at least contributing to someone else’s. They’re lucky or clever enough to have interests outside the game and can focus on specific careers. That’s why Steve Turner was able to make an informed decision on his career last week. He has shown an interest in the media for some time, worked at it, and had the confidence to make the call. Without that experience his retirement might have been a much tougher decision.
Others, just as in life, are not so sure what they’ll get up to when the cheering stops. The best they can do is try to find vocational study that suits them and hope they can spin that into a career path when the time comes. Larrikins can be hard to place but if they’re well advised they can settle into something.
There are others you truly worry about. You could probably name a few of them right now. The key is, just as in life, to have a strong support group around them. Family should be involved if it can be relied on. If not, then the club and personal managers have a duty of care to step in. It’s as much an insurance policy as is it welfare because, whatever happens, it does reflect on the image of the game and everyone in it.