Would you bank on me saying something controversial if I was asked to name three things I'd like to see change in rugby league?
Well, I think I'm bound to split opinion with this selection.
Some people will say it's pie-in-the-sky, and others won't think I've gone far enough.
But here goes.
If I had three magic wishes to alter the way things are done in rugby league, I'd wish for...
1. Closer relationships between players and journalists
You might be tempted to think as a former player, I'd like to see journalists kept at arm's length at all times. But my career straddled two different eras, which I split into distinct periods – Before 2004 and After 2004. What happened in 2004 you might ask? Well it was a combination of things, but mostly the allegations of sexual assault against the Bulldogs. It cost people jobs, destroyed some relationships, torpedoed millions of dollars worth of sponsorship and led to a stigma around a whole group of players and officials. At the end of this, there were no charges pressed.
That same year we were introduced to Facebook and players, coaches and agents started to have more autonomy in their public image. So the chasm between players and media continued to grow and grow. Some journalists have made it their bread and butter to continually drag the game down, because controversy is a proven seller of newspapers, a ratings stimulant and leads to more clicks online. They feel empowered and unashamed in doing so because the limited access we now give the media means that they can go weeks without having to see each other face-to-face or being in a position where some empathy may be created between the two.
You've got a lot of imperfect journalists expecting perfection from players, and you could argue the same in reverse. I dunno...I just think the game is worse for it in a number of ways and the truly great journalists who can be tough but fair – and genuinely insightful - are getting weeded out for clickbait heroes. Part of me yearns for the days when you could have a beer with a journo, share a few yarns and laughs, and both of you knew what was for public consumption and what wasn't. Much like how adults do business in so many fields. Now we just have two groups who demonise each other and you draw 17,000 to a semi-final because people don't feel close and relatable to players like they used to and are content without having the authentic, in-person experience.
The world we live in now is far too political correct, at the expense of sincerity. And we all know, that for all the isolated, negative incidents that players are involved in, there are usually 10 good things they do for the community that go unreported.
2. More players to leverage their profile for good in retirement
I love hearing that someone like Johnathan Thurston wants to pour his heart into a foundation. I love that there are so many guys that are willing to stand for something. You can either float through life caring about yourself only and being ambivalent about everything, or you can wear your heart on your sleeve and make the world a better place.
When it comes time to retire, I guess rugby league players get pulled in four different directions. You get some who want to disappear and not be in the public eye again. You get some that start to value their self-worth and get sucked into a dark way of thinking. You get some guys who are ultra-competitive and want to win at all costs no matter what they do. They won't be happy unless they are earning equal pay – or more – than they were in their playing days. Then you get the guys who want to give back.
I think if we could convert a few more people from those three other groups to the last category, it would be a win-win for everyone. Rugby league has a tremendous platform in Australia and players can genuinely change lives if they use it the right way.
3. Not what you're expecting
My final wish is actually that we don't change much at all on the field. Most of these types of columns usually advocate for sweeping, revolutionary changes to the rules of the game. I'll go the opposite direction and believe one of our greatest deterrents to attracting new fans and keeping old ones is that we tinker with the rules and officiating far too much.
We try and alter things constantly because fans say they are unhappy. Have you seen social media lately? People will complain about everything and anything. It's what we excel at as humans. You could say black was the best colour in the world and someone will tell you red is. Then the next day that person will change their mind and attack someone who dares suggest red is a great colour. Go figure.
Even if we had cameras in the ball and laser-guided tracking of every player on the field, people would say the technology was intrusive and the officials were still making incorrect decisions. Let's leave the game alone for a bit.
I want to be able to sit down with my father and my kids and know that all three generations played the same sport. I want interested people to be able to quickly get a grasp for the rules and for regulations to be kept simple, rather than more complex each season. We're very reactive and apologetic of who we are and what our game is. It shouldn't be that way.