THE JOY OF SIX: Round 20

LAST week’s tiff between Wayne Bennett and Ivan Cleary over comments at a press conference highlighted a persistent cultural problem in rugby league which was further exemplified when Sonny Bill Williams took Willie Mason high at Hunter Stadium on Sunday. For all the progress the game has made with a gleaming new integrity unit, recognising the role of women and stamping out racism, there is still an obsession with what you can get away with rather than what you actually do. If Cleary’s comments led to Kade Snowden being suspended, then isn’t it the match review committee Bennett should be angry with, for allowing itself to be influenced by the media? And whether or not Mason should or could have jumped straight to his feet yesterday, isn’t the real issue whether or not Williams actually collected him in the head? It’s almost as if it’s OK to accuse people of bias as long as you paint that bias as a fact of life and direct your anger at the person who tried to influence them.

“HEY, shoulder!” a lone Newcastle Knights voice shouted after Willie Mason took the ball up 15 minutes into yesterday’s match at Hunter Stadium, before being felled in a tackle which featured Sonny Bill Williams coming in over the top.The voice, from an unidentified player standing directly behind the collision, was summarily ignored by referees Jared Maxwell and Gavin Morris. It’s only when Mason failed to regain his feet that the whistlers asked video referees Steve Clark and Justin Morgan to check “possible contact from Williams”. There was definitely contact; Williams later questioned Mason’s motivation in staying on the turf. Whatever the case there, it was apparent to this reporter the incident would have been missed – until Monday morning at least – if Mason had simply got to his feet and played the ball. Maybe it would have been picked up on Monday morning. You’d hope so.
DOES the NRL have a responsibility to make grand final tickets affordable for rank-and file supporters? Newspaper and magazine mailbags and social media pages are awash with complaints about the price hikes for tickets to this year’s showpiece. One fan complained that tickets which were $55 in 2006 are now $165. Gold seats are $225. Other blue ribbon sporting events charge similar prices and try getting into the Super Bowl or FA Cup final for anything like that. The grand final will sell out and generally speaking, the NRL is entitled to charge whatever the market supports. But everyone from FIFA to Bon Jovi knows it’s possible to avoid being painted as greedy by offering a limited number of low-cost seats through a ballot system. The League would do well to consider this option next year.
DARREN Lockyer had an interesting idea in his newspaper column at the weekend. He said video referees should turn up the television when deciding on possible tries to hear what the commentators think. At first glance, this may appear simple commonsense – but of course, it’s not. The test which is all too seldom applied to many of the ideas that get thrown around in rugby league is: if you didn’t know what the game was and who the people were, what would you think? If someone is making a major decision in another sport, or another walk of life, because a media person said it might be a good idea, how would that look? Imagine if boxing judges or AFL goal umpires listened to the transistor radio for inspiration, or police read the paper before laying charges. Always ask the question: how would it look from the outside – and can it be exploited?
GRAHAM Murray should have outlived newspapers. He was only 58 when his life support was due to be turned off yesterday and the news is difficult to come to terms with. Many of the things one says in this situation – about him being ‘larger than life’, ‘a positive influence on people’ and ‘loving life and people’ – sound hollow because they are said too often. But there really wasn’t anyone like him in my 28 years of covering rugby league; he was a man who engaged with people one way or another, who was never apathetic. “He taught me the value of honesty,” former Great Britain forward Barrie McDermott Tweeted. Murray coached Illawarra (where he had success by making it compulsory to go to the pub after training), North Queensland and NSW but he did it all so recently that it should have been years before I had to write anything like this. All sympathy to his wife Amanda, his family and his army of friends. This is a terrible time.

THE contrast between in attitudes of rugby league fans towards casual sports followers couldn’t be more different in Australia and England. British leaguies were mortified and humiliated on Saturday when a Challenge Cup semi-final, shown live on national television, end in a 70-0 win by Wigan over London. Not only was the scoreline indicative of an ailing professional game, considering both teams are in Super League, but having a comparatively small northern town thrash the capital also embarrasses the game’s national pretentions in front of the very people it is trying to impress. Compare that with the Origin fighting ban, which hardcore NRL fans believe was prompted by the concerns of those who watch the sport only infrequently. Australian league supporters not only have no regard for what these people think but actively resent them for sanitised the game.


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