Don’t pop the champagne: Jennings’ 300th game will be an embarrassment for the NRL


The Bulldogs’ Round 5 defeat of the Sydney Roosters was a game that had everything, and not all of it good.

On the plus side was Matt Burton’s 22 points from three tries and five goals, and the Roosters’ second-half fightback to almost snatch an unlikely win, while on the negative side were the head injuries suffered by James Tedesco, Sam Walker and Blake Taaffe, as well as Dominic Young’s well-deserved send-off.

The low point, though, was to see both Bronson Xerri and Michael Jennings back in the NRL for the first time after serving their lengthy suspensions for drug abuse.

Xerri was suspended for four years from November 2019 after the NRL’s Anti-Doping Tribunal found that he intentionally took testosterone knowing that the substance was either banned or that there was a serious risk it was banned, while Jennings received a three-year ban from the Tribunal a year later after also being found guilty of taking performance-enhancing drugs.

Many believe that both Xerri and Jennings have done their time and should be welcomed back into the NRL with open arms, and that everyone deserves a second chance – but I don’t buy that, and I’m firmly of the opinion that those who are either found guilty of breaching the game’s anti-doping rules, or are convicted of a serious crime, have no place in the game at all.

Surely the game doesn’t need people like this. Let them find another sport or get a real job, and there’ll always be someone else to take their place.

Should Jennings even be back in the NRL? (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Both the clubs and the NRL share the blame for the likes of Xerri and Jennings being allowed back in the game, but it’s really up to the NRL to take a stand and make it clear that players who do the wrong thing won’t be allowed back.

In the case of Jennings, steroid abuse is just part of the story, as his ex-wife was successful back in December 2021 in claiming damages against him in the NSW District Court in a civil lawsuit.

She was awarded damages of nearly $500,000 for personal injuries resulting from both verbal and sexual abuse by Jennings during their relationship, and the damages have not yet been paid.

While this does not constitute a criminal conviction against Jennings, it’s more than a strong indicator that he was guilty of unacceptable behaviour.

Interestingly, the Roosters’ application to the NRL to reinstate Jennings included a statement to the effect the former Eel needed to play NRL in order to pay his ex-wife the awarded damages, but this assertion is laughable given that it was found in 2022 that the proceeds from the sale of his investment properties were paid to a third party, rather than his ex-wife.

Why do the Roosters want someone like this in their club, and what sort of message does it send to other players in the NRL?

The case of Michael Jennings gets even more farcical and embarrassing for both the Roosters and the NRL, as the game against Canterbury was his 299th NRL game, which was quite an achievement considering that he missed the last three seasons.

That means that his 300th game could come up as early as next week, and I wonder what sort of celebrations the Roosters have planned to mark the occasion, and will NRL CEO Andrew Abdo be there in front of the assembled media to present Jennings with his 300th game match ball, as he was for Jennings’ teammate Jared Waerea-Hargreaves just a couple of weeks ago?

At the presentation, Abdo said of the big prop: “Jared is everything you want an NRL player to be, tough and athletic on the field, and a leader and role model off it.”

I wonder what he’ll say about Michael Jennings?

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