Greenberg has one year to show us why he should keep his job

On December 20, Todd Greenberg dispatched a friendly email to club bosses wishing them season’s greetings for Christmas and New Year.
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Apparently, a season exists outside of the rugby league season. Many of us call it “hell”. While the NRL chief executive had their attention, he wanted to remind them about all the great things the game had achieved in 2017.

A new digital network! New stadiums! New owners for the Titans and Knights! A new strategic plan! A new collective bargaining agreement! New! New! New! Yay! Yay! Yay!

As one club boss told this column: “He forgot to add how the game has run out of money, but anyway …”

“Importantly,” Greenberg said in his email, “I believe we have made significant progress this year building a greater level of trust and collaboration among the game’s largest stakeholders. This has been a key focus for me and one that will continue into the New Year.”

This is where Greenberg often bemuses the audience he’s speaking to. Because they know as much as he does that it’s bullshit. Trust and collaboration have never been the game’s strongest points, so much so that the clubs and the state leagues had to hold a gun to the commission’s head in the past year so it could have its own people on board. On February 21, at the NRL’s annual general meeting, the “independent commission” becomes the “sort-of independent commission” when two appointees from the clubs and one each from the NSWRL and QRL join the party.

The most significant change, though, is the man being bundled out the door: chairman John Grant, who is about to climb aboard a new gravy train headed towards the Rugby League International Federation. Mark the day down as the exact moment when Greenberg has one season to prove why he should keep his job.

No longer hamstrung by a chairman who micro-managed every detail of the game and not much of it particularly well, this is Greenberg’s time to shine. His time to show us what he stands for. His vision for the game in the next five years. His time to give us less of Todd Greenberg, the politician, and more of Todd Greenberg, the leader of the game.

Greenberg abhors the “politician” tag often attached to him and that’s fair enough: it suggests he is more worried about keeping his job than doing his job. I’m sure he does more than conceive ways to look good.

Often, the claim is unfair. Last year he backed same-sex marriage and was heavily lambasted for taking a stance on a “political issue” just for the sake of politically correct publicity.

In reality, he had done so after a heartfelt letter from openly gay former player Ian Roberts. Greenberg took the stance on behalf of the game because he felt it was the right thing to do. And it was.

That said, there were two incidents last year that made many wonder where his priorities rested.

The first came in August when Kangaroos and NSW playmaker James Maloney, in an interview with Fairfax Media, squared up NRL management at the height of tense pay negotiations, claiming they were “just accessories” compared to the game’s most important “stakeholder”, the players.

Greenberg issued a statement the day the story appeared, twisting Maloney’s comments so it appeared that he’d had a shot at the fans. It seemed extraordinarily reactive.

The second instance came a few weeks later when Sharks coach Shane Flanagan and Manly’s Trent Barrett were fined for taking aim at referees following their sides’ exit from the finals.

Greenberg called a media conference, took out Mr Smack and told everyone to “grow up”. He was right, of course, but this particular smackdown could’ve happened at any stage in the past two years. Like Maloney, the coaches were easy targets, incapable of striking back. Greenberg would never pick a fight with those who could hurt him most.

It’s probably why he is one of the game’s great survivors, from Bulldogs chief executive, to NRL head of football who fell out with his then boss, Dave Smith, before replacing him two years later, before he then fell out with his chairman, only to also see him off. That is House of Cards stuff.

But all that’s in the past now. From February 21, Greenberg has a new boss. He used to be a politician, too. Grant ushered former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie onto the commission in July last year, and it was widely considered at the time to be a two-fingered salute to the all-powerful Sydney clubs: another Queenslander, like Grant, in control. It was viewed by many with great suspicion. As the months have gone by and Beattie edges closer to the top job, there is some optimism in the game about a new dawn.

Greenberg, in particular, is said to be enthusiastic about what he can achieve working under a chairman who he can trust and is prepared to do what’s best for the game, not just appease angry clubs.

Because there is a lot to be done.

Rugby league played a part in securing the $2.3 billion overhaul of Allianz and ANZ stadiums, but it cannot claim responsibility for it. This season, more than ever, it needs to start doing as much as possible to get people to its matches.

Away from the NRL, at the grassroots level, junior, bush and and suburban clubs are screaming out for more support. They are tired of watching their participation numbers dwindle. They are tired of seeing the deeply resourced AFL increasingly swamp them as the NRL trots out participation numbers that have been overinflated by touch footy players.

We’ve just witnessed a superb World Cup, especially because of Tonga. Does the NRL have any vision for international footy? Or will it simply shrug its shoulders and say its an RLIF thing, talk to them?

Of course, the game faces many more issues and problems, not least its apparent lack of money. But if there is one thing it is lacking it’s a sense of direction.

In his email, Greenberg asked all the clubs to schedule a time before the season starts when he can meet their boards and then their players. It will provide a perfect opportunity for him to tell them what the game stands for. What he stands for.

And, after that, he should talk to the most important stakeholder out of the lot … you.

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