It was an incident that generated all the wrong kind of headlines: Nathan Brown, then coach of the St George Illawarra Dragons, slapped his captain and star player, Trent Barrett, across the face on the field in 2003.
Tracie Edmondson was the Dragons’ media and communications manager at the time, and she had to deal with the fall-out. Her phone never stopped ringing that day.
Now public affairs manager for the NSW Rugby League, Ms Edmondson says crisis management is part of her role.
“That’s one of the really great things about the job,” she told students at Macleay College. “There is a lot of crisis management, a lot of issues management, a lot of training in dealing with [incidents].
“Not that it’s a good thing, but I’m just saying, from a career point of view … it’s quite interesting.”
A former ballet dancer who still runs marathons, Ms Edmondson – whose 30-year career has spanned both journalism and public relations (she started out at Brisbane’s Courier-Mail) – faced some old-fashioned sexism when she took up her first position in Rugby League, as a public relations consultant to the Cronulla Sharks, in the late 1990s.
At the time, she was one of just three female media managers working with NRL clubs. When press conferences took place, “old school” doormen would block her path into the room.
“I would stand there and all the male journos would go in. I would supposedly be trying to manage the media from outside the room.
“Eventually that changed, but that was a bit of hurdle initially, trying to do your job.”
John Lang was coach at the time. “I remember him saying, ‘This has got to stop, Tracie, you just have to come in, you’ll be [become] like part of the furniture. And it just went from there. So it’s people in key positions in organisations who can help to make change.”
She had found similar challenges as a journalist, particularly when covering sport. At the Courier Mail, she was the only woman in a 30-strong sports department. “I felt I had to work harder and be better.”
Ms Edmondson’s media management career has included stints at Surf Life Saving Australia, Football Federation Australia and Hockey Australia, as well as with the Australian team at four of the last five Olympics (she missed Beijing). She’s also had a number of roles with the NRL, including at rugby league World Cups in Australia in 2008 and 2017.
At the NRL, Ms Edmondson has seen a change to a new culture of openness in relation to the 2018 men’s Origin series, thanks to Blues coach Brad Fittler.
This contrasts with the limited media access granted on previous coach Laurie Daley’s watch.