It's Time To Call In The Man Of Steel


Those of you who are unreconstructed drunken mouth-breathing thugs will be aware of the current state of rugby league. A sport which had in the past bestrode the suburbs like a great, shaggy colossus now seems to stumble, confused and worn down by a succession of scandals and a changing world that no longer had time for a simple, working-class game grounded in old-fashioned values like hard work, tribal passions, simple violence and heavy drinking.

Frankly, I’m pretty sure the game’s been going downhill since the retirement of Benny Elias, but lately it’s gotten much worse. You may be familiar with the succession of misfortunes that have beset the game this year. From lovable goblin Brett Stewart’s unfortunate collision with an open bar and an uncooperative fan, to the revelation that Matthew Johns was not the chivalrous philosopher-king we had assumed him to be, to the continued existence of Willie Mason, 2009 has been a season in which rugby league was laid low off the field, redeemed only by the dancing feet of Jarryd Hayne and the 30-year satirical performance art installation that is Ray Warren’s commentary career.

And all through the litany of woe that was NRL 2009, throughout the seemingly endless revelations of appalling violence, misogyny, buffoonery, bowel movements and Wendell Sailor’s buttocks, league lovers everywhere yearned for a white knight to ride in and rescue the game from its malaise, to restore it to its formerly lofty position in Australian society, to take it back to the days when it was a sport inhabited by gentlemen like Tommy Raudonikis, Les Boyd and Sam Backo.

In short, rugby league fans were crying out with one voice, "If only John Howard were here!"

And despite the common view that there are no happy endings anymore, their dreams have been answered, and the former prime minister may indeed soon be shinning up the NRL’s fire escape with a bunch of roses, a winning smile, and a watertight policy on players keeping their pants on. For yes, John Howard has been approached to head up a new independent NRL commission.

The idea of an independent commission to run the game, of course, is a good one. The Australian Football League is run by just such a commission, and there is no doubt that of all the sporting administrations in the world, the AFL is by far the most smug. Just look at Andrew Demetriou, waltzing about in his fancy suit talking about how great the new Western Sydney team is going to be. It’s enough to make you want to slip into a nice loose flannie, march down to Melbourne, and internally violate him with a limited-edition Danny Buderus figurine.

But if the NRL gets an independent commission, then WE could be the ones prancing about looking satisfied with ourselves for our efforts in sucking all the humanity out of our sport. We could be the ones being targeted for violent sex crimes by, I don’t know, hockey or something.

And I think we can all recognise that Howard is the man for the job. It’s not such a leap from being the Sheriff of the Asia-Pacific to being the Sheriff of Sporting Misconduct. A man who could slap down Keating, Beazley and Latham would have no trouble pulling the CEOs into line. Why, rugby league even has a Pacific Solution of its own. Admittedly, it involves recruiting people from Pacific islands rather than sending them away to slowly rot on them, but the adaptation should be easy enough.

Most importantly, Howard would bring gravitas to the NRL. He would bring presence, which is sadly lacking in the current administration. I mean, David Gallop seems a nice enough fellow, but it’s home-truth time here: being ordered about by him would resemble nothing so much as a stern lecture from a praying mantis — slightly unnerving, but carrying little real authority.

But can you imagine John Howard showing up at your door, frowning and twitching pounding his lectern and threatening severe sanctions if you continued to defecate on nuns at after-match functions? I know people who would willingly set themselves on fire just to avoid meeting the man; the thought of being scolded by him should be enough to keep even the most masculine of leaguies on the straight and narrow. After all, it worked for the Liberal Party — under Howard we saw none of the sexual excesses or savage pub brawls that characterised the party under Andrew Peacock and John Hewson.

And even more importantly, letting Howard run the NRL would give him something to do. Keep him active, stimulate his mind etc. It would be a sort of national, multimillion-dollar, athletically based Nintendo DS Brain Age, saving him from a premature dotage. Because let’s be honest, he seems at a bit of a loose end these days. Mooching around, flitting off to America, flitting back, mumbling incoherent gibberish about his economic legacy, leaving obscene messages on Peter Costello’s voicemail. It’s no life for a man who not so long ago was, quite literally, a close personal friend of Mark Taylor. I think it’s really incumbent upon Australia to occupy him. Running the NRL isn’t perfect, but it keeps him off the streets, as they say. Not literally, of course – nothing will ever keep John Howard off the streets, or out of that stupid tracksuit – but he’ll be too busy to bother any of us.

And taking that to its logical conclusion, why should we stop at the NRL? I bet there are all kinds of problems John Howard could fix for us. We can start him off with the issue of making rugby league a successful, profitable sport with a strong national fan-base and a minimum of offensive public incidents, and then move on to other challenges.

Racist TV shows, for example. Who better than John Howard, "the great uniter", to step in whenever a program "crosses the line" a la Hey Hey It’s Saturday, sit down with all parties concerned, and calmly explain that Australia isn’t racist and foreigners should all stop bitching? After all, as the man himself said, "We will decide who paints their faces on our television shows, and the circumstances in which they paint them".

And what about the problem of where to house paedophiles? We’ve all got into such a lather about old Dennis Ferguson — where should he live, how can we protect the community, why can’t we just hang him from a lamppost and stuff grenades down his pants, etc. It needs a man of action to step in and solve this dilemma. It needs a man like Howard to bring his unique skills to bear on the situation, and set Ferguson up on Nauru. They don’t need much persuading — slip ‘em a few bucks, and bingo! Paedophile Island. An elegant law and order solution and a great new reality show concept. Don’t thank me, John — just take the ball and run with it. Ha ha! That’s a rugby league metaphor, John — you should probably use it a lot in your new job, it’ll put the big apes at ease.

I have no doubt that once we realise just what an invaluable resource we’ve been wasting, all our problems will be a thing of the past. Drugs, homelessness, shag bands — Howard will set us right on all sorts of issues. The priority right now, of course is rugby league — a country without a strong, vibrant rugby league competition, after all, is hardly a country at all; it’s like, France — but once that’s sorted he’ll spread his wings and envelop us all in his kindly conservative feathers.

A Man of Steel saved football once. His name was Paul "Fatty" Vautin. He rescued rugby league from dullness, mediocrity, and a lack of transvestism. Today, if anything, our game faces an even bigger crisis. We need another Man of Steel. And we all know there’s only one out there who’s up to the job.

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