Rugby League is one of the most entertaining and thrilling sports to watch on the field. With talent, skill and power in abundance, it is one of the most physical sports any person could choose to play. Those playing the game, therefore, have to be both mentally and physically strong to cope with the stresses the sport puts on an individual. Yet, recently, Rugby League has attracted a lot of unwanted publicity in the form of drug use, fighting and drunkenness. With the world seemingly at their feet, why have some players chosen to behave this way off the field?
A drugs problem?
In early August, the highly-controversial Rangi Chase was suspended by the RFL whilst at the Widnes Vikings - a club he had only joined permanently in July this year - after failing a drugs test in which he had tested positive for cocaine.
And, just a day later, Wakefield Trinity prop Adam Walker was also found guilty of the same offence.
Both players had been tested following Trinity's win over the Vikings in mid-July. The fact that two opponents from the same game had failed a drugs test suggests that the Class A drug is more prevalent in the sport than some people wish to think.
The drug incidents did not stop there. Zak Hardaker, having resurrected his career at Castleford Tigers following a period of uncertainty at former club Leeds Rhinos, was a shoo-in for a World Cup spot after a scintillating season in which he helped his new club finish top for the first time in their 91-year history and reach the Super League Grand Final. Yet, just two days before the Tigers would play the most important match in their history, he was omitted from the Tigers' squad - he too had failed a drugs test.
The British game is, however, not alone in suffering this drug-related issue. In May 2017, Sydney Roosters' centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall was caught in possession of cocaine at a nightclub, leaving the Roosters with no choice but to revoke his contract. His offence was also not an isolated one. In the same month, New Zealand captain, Jesse Bromwich, and Gold Coast Titans co-captain, Kevin Proctor, were removed from the All Blacks' World Cup squad after being filmed taking illicit drugs following the Kiwis' loss to Australia in Canberra. And, in a drug-infused craze that would have made the Rolling Stones proud, just a day later, Cronulla Sharks chairman Damien Keogh was forced to resign after police charged him for allegedly possessing drugs when searched in Woolloomooloo.
The recent revelations of drug use in the sport are perhaps unsurprising when considering that drugs are sadly becoming a societal problem. They are now being used almost as commonly as cigarettes and alcohol. And, it also doesn't help matters that Rugby League players are often young and inexperienced and, with some boasting a pay packet that belies their age, many think they have suddenly become untouchable.
Unfortunately, such incidents not only ruin once prosperous careers, but it also damages the sport's reputation as a whole.
World Cup misbehaviour
If drug-use during the season wasn't bad enough, Rugby League has had to deal with numerous problems whilst its most prestigious tournament on show. The World Cup has excited and thrilled audiences with the skill that has been displayed on the field. And, the enthusiasm the tournament has generated has left many contemplating ideas for potential competitions in the future.
Off the field, however, events have taken a different path. Just two days after Italy went down 36-12 to Ireland in their opening game, two members of that Italian side - James Tedesco and Shannon Wakeman - were said to be under investigation following an alleged brawl between the pair in a nightclub in Cairns over a woman.
And, at the start of this week, three Scotland players - captain and Huddersfield Giants' talisman Danny Brough, Featherstone Rovers' Sam Brooks and Darlington Point Roosters' Jonny Walker - were sent home after being too drunk to board the flight to Cairns where the Bravehearts meet Samoa in their final group game. To make matters worse, it was the actual airline that refused the trio entry onto the plane, a decision that was fully supported by the Scotland management.
The saying that bad things come in threes could not be more appropriate; hot on the heels of Brough, Brooks and Walker, Eloi Pelissier was likewise sent home by the French management after breaking a team curfew set by coach Aurelien Cologni. Before the World Cup had even started moreover, France's Hakim Miloudi had been left behind for disciplinary reasons.
Rugby League at the minute seems to be embroiled in issues that could well spiral out of control. But, are we being too harsh on the players whom, for those in the home nations at least, started their seasons in February? Rugby League is one of the most physically demanding sports around - the average tackle, for example, sees 40-miles-per-hour collisions. And, for 80 minutes most players will continue through the pain barrier, despite the fact that it is only injections and willpower getting them onto the field in the first place.
Even when the tournament ends, the players involved will only have a mere couple of weeks off before their brutal pre-season training begins once again to prepare for the Super League season in early February. Some might say that this is their job and that they are well paid, but the average wage is only £50,000 in the top flight: a figure that pales into insignificance when taking into consideration the pay packet of other sports' stars.
Therefore, although a minority do earn an income that makes an ordinary person green with envy, Rugby League players' income is generally part of a pay scale that puts most of them on a similar footing to the majority who pay to watch them. The connection between the player on the field and the spectators on the terraces is one of the strongest bonds in any sport. Just look at how the England camp has responded to interested onlookers at their open training sessions. Despite temperatures high enough to make even the most cold-blooded person sweat profusely, the England players have talked and joked with fans who have come to watch, with autographs being signed and selfies being taken wherever one looks, despite the team not yet hitting their straps on the field.
The culture and history on show have also been something to savour. The phenomenal Fijian hymn sung before and after their games, the incredible Samoan (Siva Tau) and Tongan (Sipi Tau) 'dance-off' and communal prayers before they started battering each other, and the raucous Papua New Guinean crowds witnessing their heroes on home soil for the first time in a World Cup are just some examples of how the World Cup has been, so far, a celebration of different but brilliant traditions coming together for Rugby League.
Yes, the misdemeanours of the Scottish trio, the Italian pair and Pelissier give the sport bad publicity - as did the news of Hardaker, Chase and Walker previously - but let's focus on what makes the sport great. Rugby League is so far entrenched as a societal sport that societal problems like fighting and drunkenness are inevitably going to find their way into players' private lives, though this doesn't make it right in any way. There are very few whom, unlike those in the football scene, act like pampered sportsmen, believing themselves to be 'above' those fans who effectively keep them in a job.
Those have done wrong have been sent home or disciplined. And, those who have found themselves disciplined form just an incredibly small percentage of the talented, committed players that put their bodies on the line week in, week out. These indiscretions should not define what has already been a thrilling tournament and what is a sensational sport; let's move on to what really matters: the excitement on the field. #RugbyLeague #RLWC2017 #RLWC