‘Not about silencing anyone’: Abdo explains concerns with Gould comments

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NRL chief Andrew Abdo insists the governing body isn’t trying to silence Bulldogs supremo Phil Gould after meeting with Canterbury hierarchy about his comments on live NRL matters.

Abdo met with Bulldogs CEO Aaron Warburton last week to discuss a range of issues, among them Gould’s polarising commentary and concerns in clubland around comments on judiciary, salary cap matters and officiating.

Gould is one of the highest-profile commentators in the game via his roles with Nine Network, publisher of this masthead, and one of rugby league’s most powerful figures.

NRL sources confirmed that Gould’s comments around a suggested hip-drop tackle by Canterbury’s Jacob Preston, and the inclusion of retired captain Josh Jackson’s entire 2023 wage in the Bulldogs’ salary cap, had been raised at head office.

Club officials and players can face sanction if they are deemed to be overly critical of the NRL or discuss Match Review Committee charges that are still before the judiciary, as was the case with Preston’s tackle on South Sydney’s Izack Thompson.

But Abdo insisted that no punishment against Gould was being considered as it stands, or that the NRL was trying to prevent him speaking his mind.

“I meet with the clubs regularly. Clearly my conversation with the Bulldogs was just around registered club officials not breaching the rules,” Abdo said.

“If there’s a matter that’s live, for example either a matter that relates to the match review or the judiciary or an integrity matter, the rules don’t permit players or officials accredited under those rules to talk openly about it.

“This is definitely not about silencing anyone in the media. This is not about not wanting criticism, this is just about the rules that the NRL has for everyone accredited in the game.

“There’s a reason why club officials aren’t able to comment when a matter is live because we don’t want the perception of that influencing the decision-makers.

Phil Gould addresses the media last year after Trent Barrett’s departure.Credit: Getty Images

“I chat to Gus from time to time and I’m always open to meeting with him. At this stage that’s not necessary although we do have an open dialogue and we’ll continue to do that.”

Abdo also explained the decision to not issue a life ban to the young fan accused of racially abusing Rabbitohs star Latrell Mitchell after the matter was finalised by the NRL Integrity Unit this week.

The young fan, who was wearing a Roosters jersey when he allegedly abused Mitchell during a game against Penrith in March, will not be allowed to return to any NRL game until the governing body is satisfied “sufficient steps have been taken to address their behaviour.”

Those steps include apologising to Mitchell and training and education programs. Abdo said the teenage fan, who was issued a warning by NSW police over the matter after fleeing the incident, had shown remorse and deserved a second chance.

“I commend Latrell for what he did,” Abdo said. “Having said that, people make mistakes. So it’s important for us to have a sanction and it’s important for us to educate and rehabilitate people.

“That’s part of what has happened in this process. We’re talking about a person that is remorseful, that has apologised and we will work with any individual where we can make a difference and help them become better people.”

Abdo said that South Sydney and Mitchell had been consulted on the proposed punishment throughout the Integrity Unit’s investigations.

“Our team has been engaging with the club and Latrell,” Abdo said. “I saw him as recently as John Sattler’s memorial and we’ve made sure that they’ve been kept in the loop and we’ve made sure that they’ve realised that the game is going to back the players, the fans, anyone in the game whenever they speak up against any form of vilification.”

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