Paul Gallen is the human representation of the NRL. If he is depressed, it means Rugby League is also depressed.
Rugby league has been showing classic signs of depression for years.
It has been having trouble remaining interested in daily life. It no longer enjoys once pleasurable activities such as international football – it’s simply been going through the motions for the past decade and a half.
Rugby league also engages in self loathing, reckless behaviour. It makes decisions, like trying to make new friends in Melbourne, which have the unintended effect of turning it’s existing friends in Sydney away.
Rugby league feels helpless and hopeless. Caught between not knowing whatever it wants to be a global entertainment package or a tribal sport with strong Australian roots and rusted on local support, it is riven with a deep existential angst.
Rugby league needs time out. It needs a break and a bit of separation from the negative influences in its life. A weekend break to Bali will not be enough. It needs a one to two year sabbatical in Barcelona, Berlin or somewhere equally foreign.
But rugby league will need more than a break. It will also need psychoanalysis. It needs to lie down on the couch and have a 50-year-old woman with horned glasses and a Germanic name gently probe into its past.
Over the course of twelve one-hour sessions, rugby league will drill down into its own psyche. Deep insecurities stemming from a troubled family life will surface. Events including the messy divorce of parents Kerry and Rupert in the mid 90s, which resulted in the abandonment of children Rabbit, Steel, Bear and others, will be identified as a key driver of rugby league’s current malaise.
But the therapy sessions will go beyond blaming family for all of rugby league’s troubles – for rugby league must accept responsibility for its current predicament. The alcohol-fuelled benders, domestic violence charges and steroid abuse, viewed so often as a symptom of rugby league’s problems, will come to be seen as a fundamental root of the problem, and something that must be addressed in its own right through a series of courses on anger management and substance abuse treatment, as well as daily Transcendental Meditation.
There will be crying and there will be anger, and rugby league will have to ask itself a lot of hard questions. It will go to some pretty dark, disturbing places, yet with the guidance of our therapist, a solid support network of family and friends, and some good old fashioned hard work, rugby league may one day be healthy enough to regain its place as a functioning and contributing member to Australian society*.
By Ben Shine
*This article is not intended to cause offence to those suffering mental illness. For anyone facing difficulties, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.