I’ve been racking my brain for days and I finally figured out why I was so angry watching the 2017 NRL Grand Final.
Cheaters never prosper.
They were the three little words that were going off like a fireworks display in my subconscious as I sat with a furrowed brow watching the Melbourne Storm superlative train stop off at every station on Grand Final night.
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Cheaters. Never. Prosper.
It is a concept we learn as very young children and it is a fundamentally important aspect of both society and individual morality.
Do NOT do the wrong thing, because if you do, you will never get away with it in the end.
Whether it is a thief who gets caught and goes to jail or repays the stolen goods and is forever tainted with a criminal record, or whether it’s a cheating partner that re-marries someone who makes the rest of their life completely miserable, we as a society place an unbelievable amount of faith in this notion of cosmic comeuppance.
So as the commentators were furiously scrolling through the office thesaurus to find new superlatives to describe whatever Smith, Cronk and/or Slater were doing at any particular moment, all I could think about was ‘wait, hang on a minute, these guys are cheaters…and they’re prospering!’
To anyone who may not know what the Storm did or anyone who naively thinks those past wrongs have no bearing on the team that were showered in glory on Sunday, feel free to have a look back through at what was called at the time ‘The biggest scandal in Australian sports history’.
Allowing the Storm to keep their three star players (and make no mistake, they are all of them once-in-a-generation star players) together could only ever have led to last Sunday.
The Storm illegally retained their big names and while they were cheating the competition for five years, their young stars were forming a bond and combinations the likes of which this game has never seen.
That effortless (almost mockingly so) outside-inside combo that set up Slater’s try in the Grand Final could not have been a better example of why the NRL sets tight salary caps – any club would create a dynasty if they could retain three prodigiously-talented juniors all the way to 300 game veterans.
A juiced-up Lance Armstrong doesn’t just get his past erased – he is not allowed to race anymore because he now has an unfair advantage due to his cheating.
Saying the Storm won fair and square on Sunday night is like having no problem with a golfer driving the ball right behind a tree trunk, using a sneaky little ‘foot wedge’ when no one was looking to kick it clear of the tree and then hitting the next shot to 6ft and draining the putt.
It doesn’t matter how good your next few shots are, the foot wedge immediately disqualifies you from the hole altogether.
There is no way to know where the Storm’s gun players would have played their last seven seasons had the Storm not cheated and denied normal NRL salary cap dynamics from taking effect, but in many ways it doesn’t matter.
As good as these players are individually, they were part of the greatest ‘foot wedge’ moment in Australian sporting history, yet for the last decade have been glorified in the Origin and Test arenas as cleanskin champions of our game.
Ditto Parramatta who not 12 months ago were caught for similar breeches and yet this season were one game away from playing in a Preliminary Final.
The message the NRL is sending is loud and clear and it is not cheaters never prosper, more like ‘if caught, cheaters can prosper next season and beyond’.