COMMENT: Time To Take Coach Smith’s Advice

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.

Posted in NRL

8 thoughts on “COMMENT: Time To Take Coach Smith’s Advice

  1. Steve , don’t be stupid and pack all that in .. There’s no need … Keep reporting what you think is right .. It doesn’t matter what others say … Pkease rethink this decision

  2. we all need a crusader to ferret out the truth and hopefully enough people in the game will have the guts to talk honestly to you.
    Keep the bastards honest.

  3. An open and honest piece of writing. Very refreshing.
    I too was dumbfouded to be told the Ben Barba story is all a figment of our imagination. Even more dumbfounded they expect us to believe it and move along.
    We rely on journalists like you, Steve, to give us a voice, expose the lies and get the truth out there.
    I can sympathise with you ….but how good would it be to not give in and get to the bottom of this farse?
    I for one would love nothing more.
    I’m willing to bet i’m not alone in thinking this.

  4. I too am sick to death of the lies told in the NRL these days and have given up reading about it. A contract is not a contract, a denial is usually just another lie. in fact Steve, this column was the first NRL thing I have read. It’s great when a player can be fined for telling the truth , while his new coach has money thrown at him for lying. Great message to send to kids.

  5. Good on you Steve. It’s about time someone ‘outed’ this farce. The current ‘sucking up’ to clubs by some within the media, just to get a meaningless scripted line for their 6:00pm news is cringeworthy. The game is in real trouble; I hope your stand may open a few eyes but fear it won’t. Ed….

  6. Steve the NRL is on dangerousness footing I reckon. I think fans are making a stand at the moment with decreased game attendances and TV. The game is sterile and lacking that special flair and toughness it used to have….and everyone in the game is controlled by what they say. This great game, needs an urgent injection of personality.

  7. Steve, I too would probably react in the same way you have…but reacting with such emotion is, as my mum would have said, “cutting your nose off to spite your face!”. Your role has been, and should continue to be, to seek the truth and report it in a factual and professional way to fans of the game. To walk away in frustration is not the answer – it only helps to strengthen the position of those who would seek to lie and deceive (which seems for some to be their default setting) the very people who support the game and give it a reason for existing.

    1. To be honest Rudi I wasn’t doing much news anyway and would not have been working on this story as part of my regular duties. If I insisted on doing so, I could be accused of having an agenda. This way, I draw attention to the issue and by removing myself from the front line I can help reporters not just at the publications I work for but anywhere, on any story. Still very comfortable with the decision

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