Rugby League: Moffett insists conversion is no miracle

The new head of rugby league in Australia has some bridges to build following an unfortunate jibe at the game.

RUGBY LEAGUE in its most vital stronghold is in the hands of a man who once memorably described it as "five tackles and a kick". The world of sports administration produces strange bedfellows and the arrival of David Moffett - four years in charge of rugby union in New Zealand - as chief executive of the National Rugby League back home in Australia might appear one of the oddest events of the lot.

However, Moffett, when you scratch the surface, is neither as Australian nor as new to rugby league as his resume suggests.

Speaking on only his second day in his new office at Fox Studios in Sydney, Moffett revealed the shocking information that he was born in Doncaster and has always been a fan of rugby league.

"I was brought up in Kenya and East Africa and completed my education in Brisbane," he said. "I used to go down to Lang Park and watch the league there. Growing up in Australia at the time you couldn't help being exposed to league.

"I haven't mentioned this before, but I named my son after Graeme Langlands, because I thought as a full-back he was the ultimate."

If this all smacks of a man inventing a rugby league past for himself, Moffett insists that he is an all-purpose sports nut. It is through the rugby union scene in Sydney, however, that he made his mark, as a player until a serious knee injury put an end to that, then as a referee and an administrator, forcing through a series of restructuring measures slightly less controversial than the ones that Australian rugby league itself has undergone.

New Zealand, and the growth of Super 10 and Super 12, also cast him in a high profile role on the world rugby union stage, although he says that he never stopped watching rugby league or lost his respect for it.

That respect was well disguised in his infamous "five tackles and a kick" quote. Given league's sensitivity to criticism from union, that remark follows him into his new job like a loaded revolver, quite apart from the opportunity it provides to some, in the wake of the recent rugby union World Cup, to characterise his old code as "five kicks and a tackle". His defence is better than that sometimes seen in his former game. "Phil Gould [the then New South Wales rugby league coach] had just attacked my sport by calling Super 12 touch footy. People would expect me to defend my sport and that's what I did. It has to be seen in the context of me having a crack back at what Phil Gould had said."

Perhaps a more serious concern than past indiscretions is whether there is some sort of hidden agenda behind the appointment of a rugby union man to run the 13-man code.

The NRL is controlled by Rupert Murdoch's News Limited, which also dominates international rugby union. The word reunification has been used in the context of Moffett's arrival more often than a referee's whistle in either code.

"The only people who think that is going to happen are people who are unaware of the differences between the two codes," he insists. "There might be a few administrators who think it's a good idea, but that's coming from rugby union rather than rugby league. If you ask the fans of either game you'd have no support."

Australia's success in the rugby union World Cup has inevitably thrown the relationship between the two codes of rugby in that country into the spotlight, although Moffett does not believe that the Wallabies' victory will change the situation in which union is a niche attraction and rugby league the mass market. But he, of course, was not there to see his homeland win in Cardiff. News of his defection saw him leave the World Cup unceremoniously, but not, he says, because he was kicked out by the NZRU.

"That's the biggest amount of garbage I've ever seen published," he says of those reports. "When I was offered this job, I wanted to get back to New Zealand to hand over to my successor. If people are saying otherwise, that reflects badly on the people who are running that game."

Moffett was in the running for another of world sport's bigger and thornier jobs, with the Football Association. "But in the end I would rather come back to Australia."

That part might be understandable, but there are those in that country who would question why any otherwise sane individual would be so mad as to want the hot seat at the NRL, surrounded as it is by unresolved controversies, not the least of which is a legal case by the expelled South Sydney club to stop the launch of next season without them.

Add to that the continuing bitterness in the aftermath of the Super League wars and the parlous financial state of many clubs and it hardly looks like a bed of roses.

"So I'm looking forward to it enormously. A lot of the hard work has been done; most of the heartache is over."

As Moffett says that, you cannot fail to notice over his shoulder and through the window that one of the shops in the Fox Studios complex is called Fantasy Land.

We will see how he feels about the relatively smooth road he sees ahead when he has copped a few more kicks and tackles in his new role and his new game.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Electricians

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fully qualified electricians re...

Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst - High Wycombe - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst role...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Transport & Logistics Assistant

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This highly regarded industry l...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Team Leader

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want to work for a Compa...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower