LAST week, the NRL announced that it had stood down Wests Tigers centre Tim Simona with immediate effect due to alleged breaches of the competition’s gambling code.
While league officials refused to elaborate on the exact nature of the charges, it was made clear that the player would be deregistered if found guilty.
“The notice relates to alleged breaches of the rules relating to gambling on NRL matches,” read a statement from the NRL.
“Simona will now be prohibited from training or playing with the club until the matter is finalised.
“He will be given a chance to respond to the allegations before a final determination is made.
“The NRL will not be commenting further until the matter is resolved.”
A release from the Tigers soon followed.
“Wests Tigers have been made aware that player Tim Simona is currently under investigation by the NRL Integrity Unit in regards to allegations of breaches of the rules relating to gambling on NRL matches,” the club said.
“The club will be making no further comment until the investigation is complete.”
Simona is not the first rugby league player to become embroiled in a gambling saga.
In 2014, the NRL suspended five players for betting on matches.
Slade Griffin, Hymel Hunt, Ethan Lowe and Cody Nelson were each banned for two games.
David Williams, who was found to have gambled on matches in which he played, was stood down for the remainder of that season.
In 2011, Ryan Tandy of Canterbury Bulldogs was dealt a good behaviour bond and fined $4000 for his involvement in a spot-fixing scheme.
Only last year, the organised crime division of New South Wales Police launched an investigation into a suspected match-fixing plot involving Manly-Warringah.
Several former players – most notably John Elias of South Sydney fame – have admitted to either witnessing or participating in some sort of illicit betting activity during their playing days.
This latest scandal has prompted many observers to question whether the NRL and the sports betting scene have become too tightly intertwined.
“We all have a problem, and it is growing,” wrote Paul Crawley in the Daily Telegraph.
“Rubbing out one player is not going to fix it.”
Mr Crawley took particular issue with the range of exotic bets on offer at online bookmakers, claiming the markets are poorly regulated compared to the wagering process for horse racing.
There might be something in that, but the bigger question is why players still feel they can get away with this nonsense.
The message is quite clear: if you play professional sport and you bet on games, your days are numbered.
Perhaps part of the problem is that the NRL has not always practiced the zero-tolerance policy it preaches.
The response to the 2014 player betting saga was a little on the soft side, to put it in the gentlest possible terms.
But rugby league is certainly not alone in that regard.
Heath Shaw, then of Collingwood, was banned for eight matches and fined $20,000 in 2011 after using inside information to exploit a first goalscorer market in an AFL match.
In the mid 1990s, the Australian Cricket Board courted infamy when it sought to cover up claims that Mark Waugh and Shane Warne – two of the nation’s most prominent players – had accepted money from an Indian bookmaker.
That kind of half-arsed discipline cannot be tolerated in this day and age, especially when top-tier sports clubs and organisations benefit so flagrantly from the advertising revenue generated by betting agencies.
There is also the possibility that these issues are coming to the surface because the NRL’s integrity unit is doing a fine job in discovering, investigating and exposing such matters.
Whatever the case, the league must be hard and transparent when dealing with players caught gambling on games.
They get enough education these days to know better.
Greed, ignorance, stupidity – whatever the reason, there cannot be any leeway given.
If Simona is found guilty, no matter how innocent his motives, the NRL will have to make what should now be an easy call in every sporting code.