Humility cuts both ways: Brett Clark and the QRU deserve the same scrutiny as Hamish McLennan

It has been interesting to see the reaction to Hamish McLennan’s purge this week.

It was unanimously agreed on these threads that Hammer McLennan lacked humility and wasn’t the guy to bring people together. Humility and unity in tough times cuts both ways of course which I’ll come to shortly.

There was also great excitement that a ‘Shore blazer’ had been toppled by a Brisbane Grammar alumni backed by a Chief Executive Officer straight outta Churchie. Oh the irony.

Yet few seem to have watched the press conference Brett Clark, Chairman of the QRU, appeared at on Monday. With Eddie packing for Tokyo and the Hammer ‘drinking milk’ alone in a quiet Rose Bay patisserie, there was no point I guess.

In what was perhaps a Freudian Slip, when asked about Queensland’s regional rugby community, Clark responded “our pathways, whether it be private schools, or, or, or wherever players are coming from, we haven’t been able to retain them.” Hmmm.

Notwithstanding that revealing fumble, let’s put tired private school bashing to one side for a moment. After all, the difference between Sydney and Brisbane blazers is a lesser problem than NSW and QLD parochialism as Geoff Parkes astutely noted in his article earlier this week.

The Irish Times reported on 28 October that David Nucifora, a man many would like to see become Australia’s Director of Rugby, will likely finish up in Ireland come July.

But would he want to come back to the state-against-state (there appear few mates) disaster zone that is worse than when he gave up on reforming Australian Rugby a decade ago? Arguably, a situation worse than what he found in the four proud provinces of Ireland, sectarian history and all.

It appears a case of right man, right time, wrong place when it comes to Nucifora and any other candidate for that matter.

While lauded by some, Clark and the QRU gave a tired and frankly impossibly contradictory presser on Monday.

Fair enough, McLennan lacked humility. Nobody can argue about that. But humility cuts both ways Mr Clark.

(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Let’s take a look at some of the foundational stones in the QRU’s broader position. The important stuff.

Clark said that they’d “burn an effigy” of him at Ballymore before the QRU’s commercial assets were handed over. His predecessors had taken hard decisions he said, “got dirty and ugly and turned it around, built this amazing facility [Ballymore]”.

While it’s true that the QRU took hits on Ballymore as a depreciating asset in order to address its impact on the books, that was only possible for two reasons.

Firstly, Rugby Australia bailed the QRU out between 2015 and 2017 with multi-million dollar grants. Notably, around that time, a chunk of money funded Nick Stiles’ sacking after less than 12 months as well as a law suit brought by John ‘Knuckles’ Connolly. But hey, everyone makes mistakes.

Secondly, of the $31.5 million cost of the Ballymore revamp, federal taxpayers contributed $15 million, while the Queensland government matched that figure. For all intents and purposes, Ballymore is taxpayer-funded. A national asset as much as a state one.

It’s also worthwhile noting that Mr Clark’s predecessor as chairman wasn’t Barack Obama, Steve Jobs or Bob the Builder though you might think it based on Clark’s comments. It was none other than Jeff Miller, the CEO of Queensland Rugby and then coach of the Reds during the unexceptional period between 2001 and 2006. A period where the Reds went backward fast while the Lions won three flags, the Broncos excelled and the Titans launched. Queensland Rugby has never recovered.

I don’t believe there was ever much drinking of milk though.

Clark also provided a delusional and confused assessment of the problems afflicting rugby across Queensland.

On one hand, Clark said “we have entire first teams at schools contracted to rugby league.”

Then moments later Clark identified that “the disconnect is from club land to professional rugby through to the Wallabies and that’s the high performance piece.”

It was a revealing misstep by Clark. While seeking to justify the QRU’s position on alignment, Clark highlighted for all to see, the fatal flaw in his argument around the centralisation of commercial assets.

Clark was effectively admitting the best talent is being lost to league while those who remain unsigned go to ‘club land’ and then fail to make the grade in part because pathways aren’t open.

In other words, no money to sign school boys, no money to develop second-tier talent in ‘club land’ and limited viable high-performance pathways because there is no money. And of course no money for grassroots.

And that’s in a state that doesn’t want to share assets funded by taxpayers because it’s apparently doing really well on it its own!

Ten Joseph Sua’ali’i refunds wouldn’t change that beyond being a ‘sugar hit’ in the short term. In the context of AFL’s $900 million deal for example, it’s a drop in the ocean.

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

If Nucifora did take the job, there is no money without pooling assets. At the very least there is less financial clout.

As Geoff Parkes said in his article earlier this week:

“It’s a situation Australians are well accustomed to; the shortcomings of Federation laid bare during COVID. It soon became evident that Prime Minister Scott Morrison was in fact Prime Minister of very little at all, and that jurisdiction rested with the states on substantive matters relating to health systems and law and order. Despite the setting up of a ‘national cabinet’, that united façade only ever lasted for as long as it suited the needs of each state premier; Western Australia’s Mark McGowan and Queensland’s Anastacia Palaszczuk – ‘Queensland hospitals are for Queensland people’ – notably playing the self-interest card at every opportunity.”

As far back as 2012, former Federal Sports Minister Mark Arbib found in an in-depth review:

“There is currently a worrying divide between the business models of Super Rugby teams and the ARU … As a result, the very structure of Australian rugby has become a factor inhibiting the success of both the national and the Super Rugby teams.”

Note that Arbib recommended strongly the alignment of business models, not just high-performance programs. And the reason behind that recommendation is simple.

The QRU’s position vis-a-vis its commercial assets is the equivalent of a husband and wife refusing to share assets in order to educate their kids and optimise growth in family savings as well as borrowing power.

Over time, that family unit will survive but decline across metrics in comparison to those who accept many hands are better than one, that pooled assets generate better returns and that going it alone hurts every member of the family in the long run.

When people talk of repeated QRU profits, they fail to recognise those profits seldom have exceeded six figures. Queensland Rugby is the equivalent of a small business, heavily exposed to headwinds and fluctuations.

The fundamental problem is that Clark and the QRU don’t see Australian Rugby as a ‘family’. They see it in the context of competing families or communities. Albeit competing families that have no issues seeking handouts in the tough times or accepting federal tax dollars but don’t recognise it’s a two-way street.

It was that way long before Hamish McLennan tried to hammer square pieces into round holes.

Each year the Bledisloe rolls around and we get done like a dinner. The game here is at real risk of being reduced to an amateur pastime.

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But hey, why worry about being world beaters when you can fly the Queensland flag on the Sydney Harbour Bridge once every few years?

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