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Rugby league woos John Howard -

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SHANE MCLEOD: The former prime minister John Howard is being asked to take the field in a different
but no less political arena - rugby league.

High ranking league figures want Mr Howard to head up a new independent commission for the sport to
tackle the code's complicated ownership structure, factional in-fighting and player discipline.

Bronwyn Herbert reports.

BRONWYN HERBERT: The engraving on the Premiership Cup is barely complete, but already the race is
on for who will lead a new independent commission for rugby league.

It's reported former prime minister John Howard has been approached to chair the proposed
commission.

The Gold Coast Titans chief executive Michael Searle is leading a committee to establish the new
board

MICHAEL SEARLE: So these commissioners will add to the game and that's an important opportunity I
think that we shouldn't miss.

BRONWYN HERBERT: So have you approached him?

MICHAEL SEARLE: I'm not prepared to speculate on whether Mr Howards been... we've had discussions
with him, and it's unfair on all of the candidates. But this may be the vehicle that we can use to
allow the number of high profile and certainly well credentialed people to come into our game and
have a major influence on the game moving forward.

BRONWYN HERBERT: The commission, with up to eight directors, has been proposed as a way to resolve
the game's complicated ownership issues.

MICHAEL SEARLE: We have extensively reviewed international models, particularly the NFL in America
and the benefits to an independent body controlling the game is clear worldwide, and at the moment
of our ownership structure is probably a legacy of 1998.

BRONWYN HERBERT: The fractious nature of rugby league began in the super league war of the mid
1990s.

Two separate competitions were played that were run by rivals - the Australian Rugby League and the
National Rugby League.

The competition merged in 1998 but the wounds have never truly healed.

DAVID MORROW: The admission that perhaps it's time and long overtime that News Limited got out of
the game. I mean they came into the game with a bang in the mid 90s, tried to steal the game for
themselves. In the end they, I suppose in many ways people believe they won the battle and probably
even won the war because of the simple fact that they got a very cheap product for Fox Sports.

It's very hard to come out and say that's an above board relationship between the partnership,
which sits as the financial controller of the game, and Fox Sports because 50 per cent is owned by
the same company.

BRONWYN HERBERT: ABC sports commentator David Morrow says an independent board can't come soon
enough.

DAVID MORROW: There's the ARL, there's the QRL, there's the New South Wales RL, there's the CRL,
there's the Queensland CRL, there's all these other bits of bodies that poke their nose in and out
of the game.

And then you've got the NRL. Now of course the NRL, you'd think David Gallop might run the game -
wrong. He's the CEO of the NRL, but his hands are tied when it comes to finances.

BRONWYN HERBERT: John Howard is a well known league supporter and follower of the St George
Illawarra team.

He's seen as a unifying force in a divided sport.

David Morrow says the prime minister has the sporting credentials.

DAVID MORROW: He's a man who loves the game, he's got an enormously high profile and I think he's
pretty popular irrespective of which side of the fence you sit.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Do you know much about Mr Howard's knowledge of the game?

DAVID MORROW: I do know that he went to Canterbury Boy's High School and he's a mad St George fan.
I mean anyone who went to school in the 50s as John Howard did and followed the Dragons through
their 11 successive premierships knows a lot about the game.

He knows a lot more about the game than perhaps some people even are willing to concede. He
certainly may not know as much about the game as cricket, but then we all know that his first love
in life almost is cricket and that's not being rude to Janette.

SHANE MCLEOD: That's ABC sports commentator David Morrow, ending that report from Bronwyn Herbert.