By STEVE MASCORD
“As scandals go, it certainly has the potential to be the worst in Origin’s tumultuous 33 years – and that’s saying something”
It’s the view of the doyen of State of Origin reporters in the wake of news NSW winger Blake Ferguson has been charged with indecent assault and kicked out of the team to play Queensland next Wednesday.
When reporters sat down to cover the Monday Night Football match between Brisbane and Wests Tigers, the extreme right seat in the Suncorp Stadium press box was left vacant as a mark of respect for veteran AAP reporter Wayne Heming.
After almost forty years covering rugby league, 62-year-old Heming was made redundant following Origin I in Sydney. He wrote the news agency’s preview of the very first State of Origin game in 1980 and began covering games in the iconic series the next year.
Heming, who will be employed next Wednesday by the Courier Mail for one night only at Origin II, has seen players, coaches, administrators and scandals come and go but says Ferguson’s arrest for indecent assault takes the cake.
“Ferguson going out on the drink with his former Canberra Raiders teammate Josh Dugan the night before both were to enter NSW Origin camp ranks as one of the dumbest things I’ve heard of,” Heming tells NRL.com
“Back when I first started covering rugby league in Sydney in the mid 1970s players got away with things because there were no mobile phones and they often had ‘contacts’ who fixed things up.
“But those days are well and truly gone and the intense scrutiny on players is such that they can’t step out of line or they get dobbed in.
“What on earth were they thinking?
“The last time they got out on the drink together it ended in Dugan being sacked by the Raiders and Ferguson being stood down for six weeks after they Instagramed a picture of themselves on a Canberra rooftop drinking.
“The fact the NRL has acted so swiftly against Ferguson would suggest they have seen some pretty damning evidence.
“In the current climate of change they could throw him to the lions to show they are serious about finally cracking down on unacceptable behaviour by players who tarnish rugby league’s image.”
Next Wednesday will be an emotional one for ‘Ticker’ Heming who has been probably the longest surviving fixture at Origin games since ’81.
His favourite memories include Wally Lewis announcing his retirement at halftime in the deciding game of the 1991 series. “Lewis, who’d only learned before the game his young daughter Jamie-Lee had been diagnosed a profoundly deaf, walked off Lang Park a winner for the last time,” he recalls.
His best game and gutsiest win was the Origin II 1989, when Queensland won in Sydney despite a slew of injuries.
Tries by Mark Coyne and Mark McGaw were his favourite and the Maroons’ 1995 success was the most remarkable series victory he saw.
“While I have to confess I was born in Manly – that’s in Queensland isn’t it – I have always loved the attacking never-say-die style with which Queensland play and the way they compete,” says Ticker.
By STEVE MASCORD