The NRL Conspiracy that Ensnared the Prime Minister

The NRL has always had its conspiracies. It is fertile ground for speculation, as blind loyalties to club and state collide with the real back-stage manoeuvring of big money and interests.

QLD great Jonathan Thurston famously seemed to have a theory for every major loss his team suffered in Sydney. Now the latest to be drawn into the NRL’s net is the biggest fish of all, the prime minister.

The sport’s current COVID protocols require players to take a rapid test at home before each game. A positive test rules them out of that game, and they are required to then get a PCR test to confirm their status. A PCR positive means seven days isolation from the team, and this, depending on the team’s schedule, means that a player can easily miss two matches after catching COVID.

That is precisely what happened to Damien Cook, one of the South Sydney Rabbitohs’ marquee players, who tested positive in a rapid test last Saturday. Cook then went on to miss this Friday’s decisive clash with their historical rivals, the Sydney (formerly Easts) Roosters, which also the grand opening of the rebuilt Sydney Football Stadium. In the end, Souths were defeated handsomely.

But what if the isolation period had been only five days? That just so happens to be a proposal that was heard and approved at a federal cabinet meeting on Wednesday, just three days before the match.

On Sunday night, Sydney Morning Herald’s rugby league insider claimed that the Rabbitohs were tipped off about the planned change by Albanese himself, who attended Saturday’s Rabbitohs game. This, supposedly, was going to allow Cook to make a surprise return to play the Roosters.

In contrast to Scott Morrison, whose support for the Cronulla Sharks coincided nicely with his candidacy for the Sharks’ local seat Albanese is indeed a die-hard Rabbitohs fan. An attendee of Souths famous 1971 grand final win, Albanese said he “came out of the womb” a Bunnies fan. He even awkwardly gave a Rabbitohs jersey to boris Johnson when visited the UK after his election win.

It all added up to the perfect rugby league conspiracy, lack of evidence be damned. The story was repeated across the media after the SMH “scoop”. The federal Liberals even took the ball and ran with it, claiming the prime minister has questions to answer.

“There is a small question that needs to be answered as to whether his favourite team has been warned,” said Deputy Liberal leader, Sussan Ley, of the prime minister. She claimed he is dodging that question.

Albanese’s government has so far kept its image squeaky clean. But even though Cook never took the field on Friday, the prime minister may well have conceded a few points in all the hype – at least among the fans of Souths’ most bitter rivals.

Perhaps the prime minister can turn for advice to his friends in rugby league. As long-time QLD Premier turned rugby league director Peter Beattie once said, “The Labor Party factions are absolute amateurs, compared to the various factions within rugby league.” 

The NRL finals begin next week and will feature a knock-out rematch between – guess who – Souths and the Roosters. Such a coincidental set-up for a ratings extravaganza could only have been scripted…right?

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