It would appear News Limited is ready to step aside and hand the ownership of the game back to the 16 NRL clubs. In fact, it's quite obvious they are now forcing the pace on this issue to have it happen sooner rather than later. Personally, I see this as great news for the game. However, I have a few questions and a word of warning to all who are concerned with the future of rugby league in this country. My questions are as follows: Why now? Why after so many years of being criticised for their conflict of interest in owning the NRL, is News Ltd now so keen to hand back their ownership of the NRL to the 16 NRL clubs to allow the establishment of an independent commission to run the game? It is not under any obligation to do so at this time, yet appears to be making a significant gesture of goodwill here in giving the game the independence it needs and deserves. What is the future of free-to-air and pay TV in this country and their relationships with the various sports? What is News Ltd's relationship with Telstra, which is a 50 per cent owner of Foxtel in this country? How can rugby league be certain of developing competition for their product so as to maximise returns from broadcasting rights and the world of new media? I don't have the answers to all these questions. I find it hard to believe that News Ltd will reward the game with a significant increase in broadcast rights the next time they are negotiated, simply because this will add weight to the criticism its ownership of the game has received over the past 12 years has restricted the game's earning potential. Maybe it will. Maybe I'm guilty of being over-cautious. Just the same, I would like to think we are ready to work hard and develop the quality of our product to ensure maximum returns from all forms of media and sponsorship. It won't automatically come just because we are independent of News Ltd's ownership. What I do know is that we should accept this kind gesture from News Ltd and, in the spirit of goodwill, extend our great thanks for the opportunity to reclaim ownership of our game. When the deed is finally signed it will be a great day for league. At the same time, however, we should be preparing ourselves for the obvious challenges that lie ahead in a world of media and communications where the landscape is forever changing. This means we need to develop a strong, vibrant and independent management structure to set the foundations for the next 100 years of this great game. We will be free of media ownership. We now need to divorce ourselves from the past by removing the current ARL administration. The attitude, culture and unwieldly structure of this antiquated organisation has no place in the game today. Its self-survival tactics of the past week simply provide further evidence that the ARL is well past its use-by date. The 16 NRL clubs need to come together as one and demand the ARL stands down immediately; to allow the formation of an independent commission to run rugby league in this country. I've stated numerous times over the past 18 months that the outdated ARL administration would be the biggest obstacle to progress. Those who are employed under the banners of the ARL, QRL (Queensland Rugby League), NSWRL (NSW Rugby League) and CRL (Country Rugby League) are now digging in for all their worth to stall any chance of the commission coming to fruition. Don't think for one minute they are delaying a decision because they want to give additional and thoughtful consideration to the proposal before them - they're simply acting out of self-preservation. The Real Issue Like any structure or organisation that's being created from the remnants of others, some will have issues with one aspect or another of the new commission. Compromises have been made to get the proposal to this stage. You see, the question isn't - is this proposed commission structure perfect? The real question is - is this structure far superior to the current one? Of course it is - and as time passes, we'll eventually secure the very best people to run the game, in the best interests of the game, making the commission even more effective. Even if you find flaws with the current proposal, the alternative - having no independent commission at all (and that, my friends, is the only alternative) - is unthinkable at this important stage of the game's history. And of course, that is exactly what those advocating a delay in the implementation of this proposal are really working towards. The group rallying the hardest against this much-needed progress is the QRL. Why? Other than self-interest - there are no valid reasons. QRL - The Scrooges of Christmas past and Christmas present It's not the first time the QRL has been negative towards advancements to our game. Two clangers in particular come to mind. Years ago they fought against the introduction of the Brisbane Broncos - of course, the Broncos turned out to be the greatest move the game has made in its entire 100-year history. The QRL recently fought against the return of the Gold Coast. The Titans have proven themselves to be the best move made by rugby league since the introduction of the Broncos. Why would we want negative, self-interested management like this in control of our game's future? As part of this disruption process, it has somehow voted onto the QRL board the former Super League chief executive John Ribot as its advisor and heavy hitter. This is the same John Ribot that led the charge for Super League and instigated one of the most disgraceful chapters in the history of sport in this country. Who's running the ARL? How could anyone in a position of power in that organisation allow Ribot to get within a million miles of an administrative role in rugby league in this country? It defies belief. Tell them they're dreaming! These people are hanging on to some fanciful dream that if they can scuttle the commission for long enough, News Ltd will eventually leave the game anyway and hand all power back to the ARL. They are clinging on to a forlorn hope, created by one ambiguous clause in the contract they signed when the NRL was formed back in 1997, that says the media company will hand control back to the ARL in 2018, or when they have recouped their investment dollars, whichever is the latter. Their attitude is - "why allow News Ltd to hand ownership back to the NRL clubs now and make us redundant, because if we hang on until 2018 or whenever, News is obliged to hand the game back and we will have full control?" A few points here, if I may First, whoever allowed this clause in the compromise contract in 1997 should be publicly whipped. It's typical of the gutless way the ARL bent over during those compromise talks. Second, this clause gives us no definable handover date. Neither the NRL nor the ARL can tell us how much money News Ltd is supposedly owed, nor can anyone tell us what arrangements are in place to repay this money to the media company, or when this debt is likely to be extinguished. Under these conditions News has no obligation to leave the game, at any time. We are damned lucky it is kindly considering handing the game back to the 16 NRL clubs at this time. Third, what on earth makes them think News Ltd would ever hand control back to the ARL? Given the way the ARL meekly surrendered their identity during the last compromise talks 12 years ago; and given the way the ARL has slithered into the background and become nothing more than an expensive leech, living off the work done by the NRL for the past decade, there's no way News Ltd could possibly harbour any respect whatsoever for this decaying organisation. Finally, what absurd standard of logic justifies the ARL thinking it deserves a second chance to again take control over rugby league in this country? The ARL's track record is hardly a great advertisement The ARL had the chance to stand up and be counted 12 years ago when negotiations took place to put an end to the Super League war. Instead, it sold out its clubs, its fans and its identity. Among other things, we lost South Sydney [though reinstated], North Sydney, Gold Coast, our chances of a second team in Brisbane, our name, our brand and our identity. With no thanks to anyone at the ARL or QRL, many people have fought hard since that time to recover some of those losses - all for the betterment of our game. Despite being a 50 per cent partner in the NRL joint venture, the ARL has become nothing more than a loafing, bludging, inactive baby brother, living on the couch on the back veranda, happy to live off handouts until some mystical inheritance eventually presents him with ownership of the farm. Now, when they sense there's a chance News Ltd is ready to go, (and remember no one at the ARL has lifted a finger to negotiate our way to this stage), it suddenly wants to breeze back in and stake a claim. It thinks it should be the one handling negotiations. It should be embarrassed to show its face. It is throwing up the lame arguments that grassroots football needs to be looked after, or that the clubs owning the game will somehow lead to the end of representative football, including our game's jewel in the crown - State of Origin football. What a load of rubbish. These statements have absolutely no basis whatsoever and are simply the desperate attempts of drowning men to save themselves. Anything done for grassroots football or representative football in this country over the past 12 years has been instigated by the NRL, not the ARL. Some projects were placed under the banner of the ARL to make it look like it was doing something. Even those working in football development in the ARL are frustrated at the lack of leadership and direction. Look at the deterioration of the CRL and second-tier senior competitions in NSW over the past decade. Our reserve grade/Premier League/ State League - or whatever they are calling it now - is nothing short of an embarrassment to our code. Are these the people you want running our game? Can you find me anybody who thinks these people are quality administrators dedicated to making our game the best it can be? The Independent Commission is a must The new commission and the 16 member clubs will do a vastly superior job for junior development, second-tier and representative football than the ARL has ever done. I can assure you the 16 NRL clubs see the development of junior talent as the lifeblood of our industry. Channelling money into the right areas of development is paramount in achieving the desired results. Developing new competitions, supporting and improving current models and expanding our game into new areas are all essential elements in creating a pathway to the professional levels of football as well as improving the resources and standards available to semi-pro and amateur competitions. The development of a number of rugby league academies utilising the talents of former and current players and coaches will ensure our game is at the forefront of service and relationships with the general public. The NRL clubs' support of representative football at all levels is unquestioned. I believe the Toyota Cup will prove to be an outstanding asset to the game. Its stature will continue to grow. I see the emergence of new levels of representative football in our future. The benefits of increased international competition and assisting other nations to grow in strength are obvious. Rugby league will also be in a better position to work hand-in-hand with governments in the areas of welfare, education and indigenous programs. I will elaborate on this at another time. The formation of an independent commission, compromising an A-list of intelligent, creative and entrepreneurial business leaders, is the best thing that could ever happen for our game. Our game is desperately in need of a proactive, rather than reactive, style of management. It will give rugby league the independence it needs to negotiate with governments, broadcasters, new media, venues and sponsors. It will provide transparency of all revenue generated and where this money is really being spent. It will hopefully cut through the overspending that costs our game millions of dollars each season. It will, in time, appoint the most qualified people to the right jobs in our game and in doing so, develop great confidence in the knowledge, opinions, advice and direction these people provide. It will give our game one identity, one banner, one name, one purpose. It will also lead to the end of misleading press statements, wasteful spending, jobs for the boys and expensive junket tours. Perhaps these are the things they fear the most. It's time for change The appointment of an independent commission to run our game is not the solution to all our problems. However, it gives our game its best chance of confronting our challenges. It gives us the opportunity to work harder than ever before to make our game the best it can be. The self-interested, old-standards, old-methods, old-mates-act, nudge-nudge-wink-wink way of doing things has to cease once and for all. I've said many times that News Ltd will never hand control back to the ARL, and I don't blame it. The ARL doesn't deserve a thing out of this. It needs to fold its tents. It's over. It's time for the clubs to take action and end the farce being orchestrated by the ARL. It's time for change - it's as simple as that.