The NRL’s darker side exposed

Andrew Fifita, Jarryd Hayne and Karmichael Hunt
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cover Art

Playing professional Rugby League can see you sitting on top of the world during your peak. But at your worst? The game can dispose of you within moments. Take a quick look at the game right now and you’ll multiple depressing examples.

Karmichael Hunt has won an NRL Premiership, called both the Reds and Waratahs home, and previously claimed the Gold Coast Suns MIP award. Now he’s trudging away in the QLD Cup.

Andrew Fifita once upon a time was a barging beast for the Wests Tigers and then the Cronulla Sharks. Opposition players cowered at the thought of having to cover/tackle him. He was also somebody who caused legitimate damage playing for NSW during State of Origin. Now he’s a player who started the season in the NSW Cup and seems to do more harm than good off the field. For example, he called Phil Rothfield (a major Daily Telegraph Sports Journalist) “A complete f*ckwit”, while it wasn’t that long ago when he violently threatened a lower grade Rugby League referee.

Finally, Jarryd Hayne is probably the most obvious example of the depressive, agonising state that some former/current players can find themselves in. His miraculous late-season run in 2009 saw him claim the Dally M Medal whilst he led his Eels side all the way to the Grand Final only to lose by seven points (23-16) to the Melbourne Storm. He also did fairly well in the NFL with the San Fransisco 49ers. Now he’s currently in Parklea Prison after being charged with sexual assault and he was reportedly pegged with apples upon inmates realising who he was.

Each case is far worse than the last. For Karmichael it’s all about getting back up to scratch and displaying the form that once made him one of the most potent players in the NRL. While for Andrew it’s about changing his attitude and becoming a better teammate, as well as a less volatile person off the field. And finally linking back to Jarryd once again, he needs to change his entire life around and realign the morals and ethics that he lives by.

For Hunt, the 34-year-old Aucklander returned from plying his trade in the Super Rugby competition with the Waratahs to busting his gut in the QLD Cup. He went from being a marquee name to being a bit of a has-been. Not to mention he already had a massive slipup back in 2015 when he was arrested and charged with four counts of cocaine-related crimes.

He may well yet represent the Broncos once again. But given the current state of the Broncos, it doesn’t bode well for Karmichael if he can’t break into the Broncos 17. Brisbane’s campaign is in dire straights at the moment given they currently reside in the 15th spot on the ladder and have won just 2/10 games. Including a 50-6 shellacking at the hands of Manly played out at Suncorp Stadium. Despite that, if he were to be selected, Hunt would’ve earned it, and here’s why.

The QLD Cup is no easy competition and the hits can be just as brutal there, if not more so than the NRL. But yet he’s dominated so far scoring 3 tries from 5 games, he’s also got 4 try assists, had 3 line breaks, and is averaging 44m’s per game. The turnaround is almost complete for him and all the more credit to him because of it. He left a decent paycheque for no real guarantee of playing NRL again and it’ could very well pay off.

Now to Fifita. He grew up in Blacktown and is somebody who is a bit rough around the edges. But some of his stupid and threatening proclamations have got to stop otherwise he’ll be forced out of the game.

For example, his recent outburst at former coach John Morris. Fifita claimed John told him to retire. This issue could quite easily have been dealt with internally. Fifita, Morris, and the club should have had an honest and open dialogue about this. Now, it has become a nationwide media circus involving Andrew, John, and the actual Sharks.

Whatever stupid, somewhat uneducated dribble comes out of his mouth more times than not has hurt the game, code, and his club. If he just keeps his thoughts to himself and focuses on the game that will be best for everyone involved. He seems like a genuinely passionate bloke and that’s a great attribute to have in the NRL (or life). But Fifita needs to figure out how to utilise this passion more positively.

His productivity on the field there just hasn’t been anywhere near his capabilities in re0cent years. Whether due to injuries, suspensions, or other issues, he’s played just 13 games of NRL over the past 1.5 seasons. Given his massive salary, his stature within the club, and his experience he needs to be featuring a lot more, so he needs to start changing his game for the better.

He was supposedly dropped to the NSW Cup to start the season off with due to ‘weight issues’ so that isn’t something that should be incredibly difficult for a professional athlete to deal with. Outside of that he needs to be smarter with the way he goes into tackles, and how he positions his arms. If he can change his tackling technique there’ll be fewer suspensions for him and that means he can play more matches for Cronulla and that’s a win-win situation for everybody involved.

And now onto Hayne. The Hayne Plane has officially crashed and burned. On the 22nd of March 2021, he was found guilty of two counts of sexual intercourse without consent. Then on the 6th of May, he was sentenced to a maximum of 5 years and 9 months with a non-parole period of 3 years and 8 months. Like any case, there’s always the chance that he was wrongly charged. But the evidence provided was pretty damning. Specifically, some messages painted Hayne in a very disastrous light. A part of one message from the victim to Hayne as per Perth Now says “You didn’t show any kind of remorse and it has really impacted me since then”. That was about the aftermath of Jarryd causing his victim to bleed.

The wheels have completely fallen off for Hayne. My personal opinion is that he should seek help from a trained professional. He appears to have turned into a nasty, vile person. And he has potentially both mentally and physically ruined the affected person’s life and that is a truly horrific thing to have happened to her.

The NRL is a brilliant sport to watch, but it also has a dark side to it, which 99% of us don’t want to see. But regardless it happens whether it’s assault, sickening tackles or otherwise. More needs to be done to eradicate it. A lot of the players need to change the way they behave both on and off the field for. It’s up to the game and the players to fight this criminality and poor playing ways head-on.

*Please note that these opinions are completely my own.

Toby is somebody who is a knowledgeable and passionate sports fan, but none more than the NRL. From a young age, he has been covering and supporting Australia’s greatest code. He has diplomas in both sports and business, while he loves a good laugh, some good food and travelling.

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