Todd Greenberg's appointment as NRL CEO shows safety-first mentality

Sydney

The Australian Rugby League Commission rolled the dice when they appointed Welsh banker David Smith as the unlikely boss of the NRL in 2012; a more conservative tack was taken with his successor.

After a “worldwide” search that lasted over five months and spanned two seasons, the ARLC settled for Smith’s offsider Todd Greenberg.

It is a victory for the clubs, who have pushed for Greenberg after their preferred candidate Jim Doyle opted to stay with the Warriors. It is a victory for Rugby League insiders, who were insistent on a Rugby League hire. It is a victory for John Grant and the ARLC, who have insulated themselves from the criticism levied after the decision to appoint Smith.

Only time will tell if the safe decision is the right option.

Greenberg has certainly had his successes in Rugby League since moving across from a role in cricket administration.

He did an extraordinary job at Canterbury after being appointed chief executive of a club on its knees, its reputation off the field in tatters, its performance on the paddock the worst in the NRL.

Within a year the Bulldogs were playing in the preliminary final while their standing as a club of ill-repute was scrubbed clean, Canterbury quickly reclaiming its tag as the family club. The Bulldogs – under Greenberg’s watch – quickly went from being the source of sniggers and smirks to arguably the best run in Sydney.

He has also enjoyed some success since shifting to NRL HQ in 2013. He is lauded for introducing ‘The Bunker’ which, for all its hype and bluster, has seemingly improved the decision-making process of video referees while offering greater transparency to the Rugby League public.

Still, there have been plenty of missteps, controversies and issues along the way.

His handling of the Ben Barba domestic violence allegations at the Bulldogs was underwhelming. It was alleged by News Limited that Barba attended only two hours of counselling for behavioural and gambling issues despite Greenberg declaring he would not play unless he met certain conditions including the counselling.

Greenberg was also investigated by the League over allegations he was aware of disgraced former player Ryan Tandy betting on NRL matches. It was alleged he was shown a betting ledger by jockey manager John Schell. Greenberg was cleared by the independent investigation.

Since being placed in charge of operations at League HQ, the game has been beset by criticism of the on-field product. From the quality of refereeing to the consistency at the judiciary, the no-punch rule and the shoulder charge ban, the NRL has been righty lambasted. As head of operations, these fell under Greenberg’s purview.

Greenberg enters the job with the game at a critical juncture. The next television deal has been signed and sealed but the game’s finances remain a mess after a loss of $18.7m in 2015. The lack of any strategic direction was highlighted by the lead balloon that was Shane Richardson’s failed whole-of-game white paper. The game’s reputation as a product attractive to both so-called middle Australia mums and dads and the corporate world the League so desperately needs to court is below acceptable. League HQ continues to battle an image problem much of its own making.

There is no question Greenberg is qualified for the job. He has the smarts, the political acumen, the stomach. He understands the unique machinations of the Rugby League world. He knows where the bodies are buried and where the lunches are had. He is in the unique – and most likely – fleeting position of enjoying both the unfettered support of clubs and the confidence of John Grant and his commission.

He won’t make the mistakes his predecessor did. He simply won’t take the swings Smith suffered. His knowledge base is too sound and his political radar too in tune.

The flip side of that though is another David Gallop. Gallop was without question the right man for his time but by the time he said farewell he was chastised for being reactionary. The political environment is very different for Greenberg but his impulses seem similar. Be considered. Be conservative. Play what is in front of you.

If the NRL is happy enough to play it safe, they have found the right man.

It remains to be seen though whether Todd Greenberg is the visionary the game really needs.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Nick Tedeschi, for theguardian.com on Friday 18th March 2016 00.46 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010