Former NSW and Australia halfback Steve Mortimer has made an impassioned plea for those at the top of rugby league to learn what makes the game tick in the country, and reduce the costs for those playing the game.
While the chairman of the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC), John Grant, faces a revolt from NRL clubs over funding, Mortimer says the sport can’t forget its regional roots.
“What I’m saying with John Grant is, I don’t believe he knows what it’s like from the Murrumbidgee down to the Murray and beyond,” Mortimer said.
“It’s very much AFL-oriented – when you see those lights up at Robertson Oval you see, oh it’s an Aussie rules town.
“But rugby league is strong. I think John Grant or whoever the chairman is… we need the heavies to go down and understand where rugby league is. And see the power of AFL in the south-west (of NSW) and Riverina.”
Mortimer was one of the earliest advocates for an independent commission, campaigning a decade ago to end the shared ownership model which was a carryover from the Super League war.
“Before the commission came in, it was catch and kill your own and probably a bad attitude,” Mortimer said.
“Now we’ve got the commission, it definitely is the right structure for the improvement of rugby league.”
But Mortimer says broader knowledge of the game is needed at the top. The eldest of the famous footballing brothers says there has to be better support for country families, specifically by reducing insurance costs.
“The greatest thing that ever happened to us Mortimer boys was growing up in Wagga where you could play any sport… but really I think our commissioners don’t know or understand the importance of rugby league-ifying the area,” he said.
“All the commissioners need to go to Tumbarumba, to Albury, to Griffith, to Leeton, to Wagga and get an understanding. Go out into the country and understand a mother or father travelling 50 miles to watch a game.”
Mortimer also noted the strength of women’s Leaguetag as an important part of the game in the bush.