THE JOY OF SIX: Representative Round

SUPPORT for the City-Country game rallied over the 24 hours before yesterday’s game at BCU Stadium in Coffs Harbour. Then, 4635 people showed up. The first question that needs to be answered is whether NSW needs a selection trial at all. Paul Gallen did say on Triple M last night that he would have confidence playing alongside Adam Reynolds after seeing him in action. So assuming they do need the game, the next question is whether candidates actually oppose each other in that selection trial. Yesterday, that probably happened only in the front row or second row … maybe the centres. So if the object is to see how players fair at rep level, not against each other, then why do City and Country have to play each other? “Sydney Origin” would draw a massive crowd in Port Moresby, while Country could take on an island nation or Pacific All Stars in a rural centre and in interest would be huge. In the NRL, we’re trying to find the right venues for the right games. At rep level, we have to find the right opponents for the right teams.

IN almost a quarter of a century of covering international rugby league outside the top three, I have learned of a strange dichotomy. Those running and supporting the games want to be taken seriously regardless of rubbery qualification rules, dodgy venues and last-minute planning. That’s until something goes wrong. Then they – administrators, coaches, fans and players – want forgiving coverage and charity because it’s “a development game” and they’re just doing their best for the great sport of rugby league. You can’t have a bet each way, it’s either serious or it’s not. On Saturday night, a fully recognised Test match was abandoned with 45 seconds left – and a scoreline which will appear in the record books forever was affected by a conversion that couldn’t be taken – because match officials had been escorted off for their own protection amid a pitch invasion. Other sports would cop it over that and so should we.

WHEN Willie Mason retires, he has an opportunity to start a new form of corporate service: motivational comedy. Your correspondent on the touchline yesterday heard Mason mix humour with exhortation in a manner perhaps not seen elsewhere in the English language. “Off already?” he says as opponent Nathan Peats trudged past. “I got you on your back, brother,” Peats said back. “That’s must be a big aim,” Mason responded. But Mason’s encouragement of his team-mates – mixed with good-natured humour and mostly gentle sledging of the opposition – bordered on inspirational. Mason may have cashed in his representative retirement fund but his representative footballing chips remain firmly in his pocket.

IN all the discussions about the ANZAC Test and its place in the calendar, two things are forgotten. One, we used to have the Test after Origin and Australia beat Great Britain 64-10. Australia are too strong after being steeled by Origin and are capable of setting the international game back decades. That’s why the Test is on first.
Two, no-one considered that the game is there for the Kiwis. Australian league people often just think of themselves. The NZRL has precious few fixtures to promote the game and its trademarks. The leading country in any sport has a moral responsibility to the other nations playing that game to help them. Oh, if it’s not worth playing the World Cup holders, who is it worth playing? And no-one said the Tonga-Samoa game should be scrapped when the margin was bigger…

A FORMER touch judge admonished me on Twitter on Friday when I suggested there was no basis for the NRL video referee procedure (form a T with your hands, say you think it’s a try, say what you want to check) being used in a Test match. “Isn’t it about getting it right?” he said. Well, it isn’t JUST about that. This is a World Cup year; a World Cup that still doesn’t have a naming rights sponsor. Shouldn’t we be trying to create the impression that there is a level above domestic football that is a little different? There is never a feeling when Australia plays New Zealand in mid-season that it is part of a wider level of competition that now involves more than 30 countries. We should be working hard on creating that impression – so (see above) people take us seriously.

YESTERDAY on the ABC, NRL Commission chairman John Grant addressed criticism that his chief executive David Smith is not as accessible as predecessors like Neil Whittaker, David Moffett and David Gallop. Now, I have heard that even NRL clubs struggle to get as returned phone call from Smith at times. Grant said that Smith had been busy with the ASADA investigation and many other matters, including the prioritising of 30 key ‘tasks’ the commission wants to address in the coming months. He said Smith would become more visible but would not be talking to the same journo or journos every day, as previous CEOs have done. I’m a journo but I think that’s fair enough. Does the NFL commissioner finish every day by returning 47 calls from every daily newspaper in the US? The media is too diverse now for Smith to favour just a handful of hacks without rightly being accused of unfairness. Oh, those days were great. Thanks Neil, thanks Davids. But I can accept they’re over.


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