Talking RL: Why the Bateman saga can not be closed yet

John Bateman has not returned to training yet
John Bateman has not returned to training yet

In the final line of Wigan’s 300-word statement outlining John Bateman’s punishment, chairman Ian Lenagan is quoted as saying: “The incident is now viewed as closed and no further comment will be made by club or players.”

If only it was that simple.

Wigan may want to draw a line under the off-field controversy, but it will rumble on. Inevitably it will rumble on.

I said a week ago I was less interested in what Bateman actually did than in what happens next, and nothing has changed.

Sure, we know he has been fined. We know, now, he has been suspended by the club.

But then what?

As Lenagan says in the statement, “Kris Radlinski and Shaun Wane are confident that the spirit and togetherness of the squad is at a high level,” pointing to two wins obtained while Bateman has been missing.

The England forward isn’t just missing from the team line-up - he’s not training with his team-mates yet.

And that’s why the incident can not be “closed”.

Not yet.

Because Wigan put such a huge emphasis on team spirit and harmony, of working for each other, it’s only logical to ask: What happens when Bateman returns?

Will there be fractions, between him and the player he was fighting with? And the fact no-one else has been punished suggests the ex-Bradford man was firmly in the wrong.

And what about friends of each player? Will Bateman’s return to the playing field next month disrupt the unity in the side?

We don’t know. And we won’t know until it happens.

Wigan’s statement says players and coaches won’t comment on the issue, but there are no prizes for guessing what the main talking point will be before Bateman’s return to action - in a high-profile home match against St Helens, no less.

The drama will inevitably be dragged up again. Questions will be asked, whether they are answered or not.

And between now and then, with Bateman sidelined, NRL vultures will continue to circle.

Canberra’s recruitment manager Peter Mulholland has admitted speaking to him twice in the past 18-months, most recently at the Magic Weekend last month.

He ruled out a move this time - perhaps no surprise, given the Raiders have led the way in offloading players for off-field indiscretions - but others are monitoring his position.

Bateman is an outstanding player. He was the leading contender for the Man of Steel before all this and, as a young forward, he will have no shortage of interest from Down Under.

The release-clause in his Wigan deal (admittedly, for 2019) hints at a desire to play in the NRL at some stage, even if his young daughter - who lives with her mum in Yorkshire - is a big incentive to stay.

Bateman was still at school when he became a dad, and he has spoken candidly in the past about how he matured quickly. He has never shied away from the fact he was heading down “the wrong path” when rugby league offered him a chance to make something of his life, something the sport - all sports - should be proud of.

Whether this was an isolated incident, a brain-explosion while ‘on the beer’, or something deeper-rooted is a challenge for Wigan to find out. And I applaud them for saying they will work with him to try and make sure he returns better from it.

The statement says Bateman has shown “regret” for the incident - but it’s a shame he won’t be speaking to the media.

Because I’m intrigued to know his thoughts on the punishment. He may think it’s fair, and be desperate to atone for his error. He may think it’s harsh, and have different feelings altogether.

We could also ask him why he has changed his Twitter bio from ‘Wigan player’ to ‘pro RL player’ as some eagle-eyed fans have noticed.

It remains to be seen whether it comes at a cost, given Wigan have a Challenge Cup quarter-final and a trip to Catalans while he is away, and they are already without two others England back-rowers due to injury.

For what it’s worth, I thought the punishment itself was firm.

Opinion among fans seems split.

Some think it was lenient (though those calling for his sacking miss the point it would trigger a mad-scramble for his signature).

Others say it was harsh, particularly the fine. We aren’t privy to his salary details but it’s reasonable to guess £10,000 must represent a considerable chunk.

Most agree the issue dragged on far, far too long.

And - despite Lenagan’s wishes - it’s only going to rumble on even longer.