By STEVE MASCORD
MELBOURNE and Australia captain Cameron Smith has lashed out at misbehaving players who live in cocoon in rugby league’s heartlands and don’t understand how much they are hurting the game in its frontiers.
In an eight-day period which has seen NSW prop James Tamou, would-be team-mate Blake Ferguson and South Sydney prop George Burgess all charged by police, Smith said many players in NSW and Queensland don’t understand the harm they are doing.
“It’s huge – we’re trying to grow the game in new places like Melbourne and they think they can do what they want,” Smith told Fairfax Media in the Brisbane Botanical Gardens, shortly after the Queensland’s team announcement.
“Living down in Melbourne you’re constantly hearing about how far our game is behind and this sort of stuff only adds to that.
“The players who live in NSW and Queensland aren’t confronted with that, they don’t see it.
“I don’t want to make too much comment on it because it’s been dealt with by the NRL and the respective clubs but it’s disappointing because it’s a few blokes letting the whole game down really.
“Nearly the whole competition, except for a few, they uphold their responsibility to the game and to the public.
“They can go out and a have a few beers and do the right thing. But it’s these blokes who think they can do whatever they want who let the game down.
“For someone to say what they did is OK – they’ve got to have a serious look at themselves.”
Smith also defied the conventional rugby league wisdom when it came to the punching ban introduced since Paul Gallen’s attack on Nate Myles two weeks ago. Maroons coach Mal Meninga said during the team announcement media conference he could not guarantee there would be no punches at Suncorp Stadium next Wednesday.
Referees coach Daniel Anderson said at the weekend that Smith’s contention on television last week that the Gallen-Myles incident was “not a good look” was taken into consideration in handing down the edict.
“He changed the rule because of me? I think it’s a good move,” said Smith. “Probably a lot of people would disagree but I think the sport is moving with society.
“It’s unacceptable to go around punching blokes whenever you want now.”
Motioning to a junior player in uniform who had been part of the announcement, he continued: “If we want these little fellas playing the sport when they’re 20 years old….
“And kids being born this year, if we want them playing rugby league then we’ve got to be showing their parents that it’s a good game to play and a lot of people would have seen that incident in game one and though ‘oh, maybe I want my kid to play soccer or something else.”
“It’s a good move for the NRL to come down hard on starting fights because there’s no place in the game for it now.”
Ferguson has been kicked out of the NSW team for indecent assault, Burgess has been stood down by South Sydney for wilfully damaging a car and Tamou was disqualified from Origin selection and suspended by his club for driving unlicensed at four times the legal alcohol limit.
Maroons and South Sydney star Greg Inglis told reporters yesterday he knew nothing about the Burgess incident.
The Maroons dropped Gold Coast lock Ashley Harrison and Canberra prop David Shillington for a game they must win to keep alive their seven-year winning streak against New South Wales.
South Sydney’s Chris McQueen comes into the starting side and Canberra’s Josh Papalii is on the bench with Sydney Roosters’ Martin Kennedy 18th man.
“We’ve got a culture of loyalty … we had to make a touch choice,” said Meninga. “There are young kids poking their heads through who have been in our system for a while.
“There was a long 10 metres … we needed to pick a side with more mobility in the ruck.”
On the punching ban, he said: “I understand where they’re coming from with it.
“But it’s an aggressive and combatative game. It’s difficult to control your emotions. Origin is all about emotion. “
Asked if he could guarantee there would be no punches, he answered: “I don’t think you can guarantee that in any sport … any combatative sport be it rugby or soccer.
“It’s a tough one. It’s black and white. We’ll see what happens.”
Meninga is a confidante of Ferguson and said: “It’s sad to see what happened to Blake.
“He doesn’t have a tendancy to mix with the right people. He’s easily led.”
Filed for: THE AGE