Up Front with Tony Butterfield

THE opposition coming out of the bunkers of vested interest last week when politicians dared suggest curtailing gambling messaging during live sporting events was typical.

AndI can understand their point of view. It’s precisely during the matches that the most eyeballs are watching and, theoretically, optimal commercial return on investment can be extracted.

The problem for the various sports is that betting houses have gambled big-time on this means of penetration and growth by paying multi-million dollarsums for the privilege to fleece sports lovers“live”. And sports are addicted.

Now, while adults are free to blow their rent on the thrill of the chase, it’s the stealthy access to tomorrow’s customers, the kids, that needs to be carefully scrutinised.

For it’s them, as much as the old farts, who are being indoctrinated into accepting gambling as normal.

Risibly and paradoxically, it was last week argued by sports administrators and lobby groups that any contraction would actually hurt the kiddies.

That restrictions would reduce the money inflows and therefore a sport’s ability to outflow funds to junior sport.

Fair dinkum, you couldn’t make this stuff up. In exchange for brainwashing the kids we’ll offer funding.

Now this old chestnut is rolled out every time these kinds of debates are had.

But I’ve been involved in junior sport for the last 20 years. Precisely the time during which the game has made billions of dollars.I must have been away the days any funding trickled its way down to clubland.

Using a falsehood to justify a scourge is an insult to the sausage sizzlers, volunteers, parents and kids who year after year strive to keep their clubs afloat on the smell of an oily rag.

All the while, the senior game is doing billion-dollar deals.

With respect to the mythical funding question, the suits at Moore Park must surely recognise that the very junior participation base upon which the senior game is sustainedis crumbling.

Not around the edges, but structurally. In NSW at least, the numbers of teams year-on-year continues to contract (among boys), with many of the survivors lucky to have a full squad each week.

The game is in decline and those suits are watching as Rome burns.

In a few years’ time, the business chiefs in charge will move on, oblivious to the damage they have done to the junior game, while those whoare left will have a shell of a game to remember.

The ARL Commission need look no further for example than their AFL counterpart, who have long invested in their game’s future.

It’s my considered view that those in charge of funding the game have dropped the ball and shouldn’t let the door hit them on the arse when they leave. They need to be replaced with business people with a strong emotional and cultural link to our game.

Before it’s too late.

THAT HURTS: Newcastle’s Brendan Elliot shows his dejection after future Knight Kalyn Ponga scores for the Cowboys last Saturday. Picture: Getty Images

*I HAVEto go back to my last game in 2000 to recall a more shattered dressing room than last Saturday in Townsville.

With key players missing from the Cowboys our men did everything possible to plan and prepare. They were in camp in Townsville by Thursday evening with a solid plan. They stuck close, ate good food, slept soundly and were as ready as they’ll ever be.

Hence the shell-shocked looks on the faces of guys like Mitch Barnett, DannyLevi,Sam Stone and Luke Yates after the loss. All giving more than theyshould be asked to contribute. Yet it still wasn’t enough.

It was German military strategist Helmuth Von Moltke who sagely noted:“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy”.

A more contemporary if less eloquent take on the theme camefrom former heavyweight boxing carnivore Mike Tyson: “Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the face”.

As you’d expect, the Cowboys had a plan of their own and pressured the Knights into a very poor first quarter.

In that short time, errors piled up, Newcastle were caned in the penalties and otherwise chewed up precious energy, dulling ever so slightly the new attacking combinations for the balance of the contest.

What shoneagainfor the visitors was their ability to compete with neither ball nor field position. To tough it out and adapt to the reality, if unsuccessfully.

If the feeling in last week’s dressing room is anything to go by, they certainly care, and care deeply. But emotion alone won’tget the field goal kicked or the clutch play executed. That takes poise and composure, if not an ironclad plan.

Let’s hope they have learned from the experience and ice this game against the Titans.

* TRAVELLINGwith the team last week, I spent a bit of time with injured Knights recruitRory Kostjaysyn. A super-impressive young man studying finance, and otherwise organised as one would expect from a thorough professional.

Unfortunately, it may be that his career is over.

I say “it may be” because one can never underestimate the human spirit, but his voice-box injury is far worse than he had hoped.

Taking a short, if otherwise innocuous, forearm from a teammate in a training exercise late in the off-season, Rory slumped to the ground unable to breath.

Like all impact injuries,there’s a best place and a worst place to be hit. Rory’s was towards the latter. Keeping the airwave open taking priority over the ability to speak.

Serious stuff with painful decisions ahead either way it goes.

I for one, wish him the very best in his recovery.

* THEspeculation over the future of Trent Hodkinson further destabilises our footy club.

Only Trent knows if his knee is able to withstand the rigours of the position he plays. But coach Brownhas brought the issue to a head.

Playing reserve grade this week says a lot about Trent’s desire to prove himself. An attitude associated naturally, and one he will need to draw on to fight his way back and lead from the front.

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