By STEVE MASCORD
IT’s July 20, 2001. Parramatta stalwart Jason Taylor is nearing a pointscoring record as he takes on the Melbourne Storm at Docklands Stadium.
With the scoring mark nearing, Taylor is replaced by coach Brian Smith. Your correspondent, sitting high in the enclosed press box with a broken laptop, is dictating his story to a copytaker.
“Taylor’s being interchanged will lead to speculation he was deliberately replaced so he could break the pointscoring record in next week’s home game,” I say, deliberately and slowly, spelling T-A-Y-L-O-R.
Sitting not a metre away, the Eels PR manager Trish Sinclair hears the sentence and reports it to Smith, who attacks me in the open press conference and generalises about cynical journalists spending too much time together.
Later that night, The Australian’s Jeff Dunne exchanges texts with a livid Smith. Dunne is also Smith’s ghost writer for his weekly column. He tells the coach “we are lied to every day, we have to be cynical and challenge everything”.
Smith sends a one-word response: “RESIGN”. Myself and the coach barely speak for months.
But the comment immediately seared itself into my mind and has been there ever since. Smith was right – if you don’t like people lying to you, quit your job and chose a more positive road, rather than becoming miserable, cynical and distrustful of human nature.
And now, a 25 minute walk from the pub where the text popped up on Dunney’s screen, and 12 years later, I find myself taking Brian Smith’s advice.
I don’t want to grandstand here. But I’ve been asked to appear on Triple M this evening to outline my reaction to the NRL’s finding that Canterbury acted correctly in its dealings with the Ben Barba affair all year.
My colleagues tell me – and some have written – that they were repeatedly assured there was no truth to suggestions of a domestic assault. Yet there is a photo which no-one has adequately explained. Presumably, this is all now expected to go away.
And presumably, the next time a club is faced with an uncomfortable discrepancy between the evidence and the facts it has presented for months, it now has the imprimatur to actively deny any such issue exists when specifically asked by media representatives.
I accept my viewpoint may be wrong, given the extenuating circumstances that were investigated by Tony Bannan SC. But I’ve seen nothing in today’s media releases to convince me of that.
Couple this with David Shillington being fined by Canberra yesterday for just being honest, and Smith’s text from all those years ago looms large in my thoughts.
I have nothing personal against Todd Greenberg or Don Furner but I can no longer see any point in ringing people to ask them questions for a living when they can either provide a less-than-forthright answer with tacit approval from the NRL or be sanctioned by their club for being forthright.
The choice is either to become a bitter, angry, aging crusader or to focus on what is still satisfying and I choose the latter. Again, I am not trying to be a martyr here – just provide my honest reaction.
Chasing rugby league news over the phone seems a pointless charade under current circumstances so I won’t be reprising my role as The Age’s league reporter next year, I won’t be engaging in newsgathering for Rugby League Week aside from on game day and my talks about returning to the Sydney Morning Herald as a part-time news gatherer will cease.
Yes, I had already scaled down these activities. I hope I can still cover games and write columns and features. But as someone without a mortgage, kids, house, or even a car, if I can’t make a bit of a statement in this way then no-one can.
Forgive me if you think this column is self-centred. I didn’t know what else to say.
By STEVE MASCORD