OPINION - The past 48 hours have been some of the most bizarre in recent Wellington club rugby history. It’s hard to recall when a Premier match was postponed, let alone under the circumstances that Saturday’s Norths vs Poneke one – along with its accompanying Premier Reserve game – was.
The allegation, that Poneke had fielded unregistered players during the Swindale Shield, could be considered relatively serious. But for context it’s nowhere like that in Auckland where a club knowingly played a player, who had been banned for life for punching a referee, under a false name.
That it transpired that the complaint had been laid by Petone, who could benefit and belatedly make the Jubilee Cup at Poneke’s expense after failing to do so on the field, could be seen to give an impression of sour grapes. When the second act of this comedy was revealed that in a counter-complaint Petone had themselves failed to register a player they had played in the Swindale Shield, the dueling complaints were withdrawn.
It’s easy to point the blame at the clubs, but that would be overlooking that fact at the heart of these are humans, and errors happen. What’s at issue is that the penalties for a simple oversight or mistake seem greatly out of whack, and that approach hardly encourages people to get involved as a volunteer, or in the few instances where it is the case, a paid club employee, at a time where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find them.
There’s no dispute that these rules exist for a sound reason, but when the method of enforcement, least not education and support, seems to be clubs calling each other out who is the policeman? Is finger-pointing between clubs really the way this should be done?
The WRFU are not without blame here. The whole episode – and that last year that involved Tawa’s Kalim Kelemete – could have been avoided if there were any apparent checks and balances that names on the weekly teamsheets are in fact registered to head off any potential issues, inadvertent or otherwise, and alert the clubs to correct the problem as soon as possible without diving straight into the depths of the by-laws. It’s no secret that the union has downsized staffing numbers in recent years and perhaps these sorts of activities are amongst those that have been cast aside in the process, but it’s worth wondering if a player who was under a suspension or the Blue Card process appeared on the teamsheet.
Then there are the other issues. Norths have been greatly disadvantaged in all of this through no fault of their own, and now have to deal with an unplanned midweek match and potentially without players there would have had available on Saturday. There’s also the question of how much revenue through food and bar sales they lost as a result of this, and arguably compensation should something that’s part of the discussions.
Hopefully lessons will be learned all around by both the clubs and the union. But this has been another self-inflicted black eye for the game in the capital.