THE BIG ISSUE: #38

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

EVEN if you are reading this the moment RLW hits the streets, there’s a good chance you’ll already be regarding the wall-to-wall ‘SBW v Canterbury’ hype as media overkill.

Friday’s game has been canvassed and foreshadowed for so many months that it’s going to be good for many league fans just to get it over and done with.

But it’s important to remember what happened in 2008 – and what didn’t. It was a MASSIVE story and sometimes our memories distort things. Here’s a few elements of Williams’ secret departure from the Bulldogs that have been lost in translation.

1. He left in “the dead of night”. Actually, it was a Saturday afternoon. Customs officials called rugby league open line radio programmes to report seeing him leave;

2. He paid a transfer fee. Well, he did eventually – after the Bulldogs kicked up a stink;

3. He went to London to get a Samoan passport, so he could play French rugby union. In fact, Williams had gone to Samoa in a trip partly organised by the Bulldogs in May of that year, where he made contact with government officials and started the ball rolling in securing a passport.

This reporter received a phone call in May at the Daily Telegraph. He asked if I was aware of the Samoan trip. I double checked with the Dogs and they said it had all been above board.

In my next conversation with the source, he insisted I wasn’t aware of the real reason for the trip and that it would be a big story.

He wanted money. I told my immediate superior, then told the source that to the best of my knowledge we did not pay for stories. That’s the last I heard from him.

I have no regrets about that – paying for stories is wrong in my opinion.

I will say it’s good to have Williams back in rugby league. I will also say it would have been much better had he never left.

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THERE aren’t two teams in the National Rugby League with more scrutiny and pressure than St George Illawarra and Brisbane.

The expectation on both to succeed must be intolerable and both coaches, Steve Price and Anthony Griffin, are following in the footsteps of a giant in Wayne Bennett.

In professional sport, expectation + poor results = criticism. Expectation + failure = the sack. If you are the coach or players at one of these two clubs, there are two variables in the equations above that are outside your control – expectation and criticism.

So they are things you can easily allow to annoy you and wear you down.

But the sun rising is outside your control too – that doesn’t make it any less inevitable. A successful club will get criticised if they are not successful in the short term and a coach will get sacked if his results are not up to scratch in the long term.

Actually, nowdays, make that the medium term.

Griffin last year seemed a likeable larrikin who seemed happy to do his best and let the cards fall where they may. This season, he seems more uptight. The Broncos have the look of a club battening down for a tough year. It was good to hear him talking at the end of his last interview on Friday about seeing his family and relaxing after a much-needed win.

If we’re talking body language, Price seems to be taking the opposite trajectory. Despite having his job offered to someone else and starting the year with three losses, he’s got his sense of humour back and is showing outsiders a glimpse of his personality for the first time.

The fact is, critics always lose because the team they bag always wins eventually. To follow professional sports – a bunch of adults dressed up like kids chasing a bladder around – you have to suspend disbelief somewhat, like going to a pantomime.

We all play roles that have been played for more than a century and the way we all interact is pretty much pre-ordained. In the grand scheme of things, it matters not. Football is just entertainment.

Sports critics will always be pantomime villains. We know it. But we love it.

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WHEN Jamie Soward collided with Chris Houston on Sunday and WIN Jubilee, there was mirth. It was an unusual, accidental, David-and-Goliath encounter that left Houston wobbly-legged.

Weaned on Roadrunner cartoons, we are conditioned to think of people (or coyottes) wandering around not knowing where they are as funny. We even have an image of tweety birds circling heads and friendly expressions like ‘in Disneyland’.

These clichés are as outdated as the cartoons they once featured in. Concussion is now clearly linked to dementia and early death.

It doesn’t help that we process a punch-up on the field completely differently to one we see in the street. In public, we would call 000 if we saw bare-knuckle fighting. On the field, we cheer and laugh.

But if we are to ever deal with concussion in rugby league properly, we have to learn to be horrified and worried any time we see the slightest hint of disorientation from a player after a collision.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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