By STEVE MASCORD
THERE are times these days when it seems “characters in rugby league” is a non sequitur.
We remember Allan Langer checking out the race results on the big screen at the SFS, Dallas Donnelly eating a goldfish and Kerry Hemsley dressing up as a bushranger.
But for all the suggestions that it’s the media’s fault no-one is willing to break the mould in 2015, isn’t LIFE just more serious now? Aren’t lunch breaks and holidays getting shorter, visits to the pub more infrequent, diets healthier and more boring?
When our players’ poll hit up 100 NRL stars about who they thought was the competition’s
“funniest player”, the answers would have surprised many readers.
San Thaiday and Konrad Hurrell are know as being “smiley” but their senses of humour aren’t really laid bare in in public. James Maloney and Willie Mason, yes. Michael Ennis?
The fact is, not everyone is Beau Ryan – and some jokes aren’t for public consumption. Shaun Berrigan has a reputation as being a laugh-a-minute among players, and as little more than taciturn among everyone else.
The opposite is also true. Some players – like, say, Richard Villasanti and Martin Bella – were so different that they’d not win too many popularity contests among their peers. But for that reason alone, they were none-the-less “characters”.
All of which is saying you’ve got to dig a bit deeper these days to find the game’s engaging hombres – but they’re there.
Maybe we’re about to get a resurgence; our players are looking to American athletes who set themselves up for live by stepping outside the norm.
“We need those characters,” St George Illawarra’s Joel Thompson said on Denan Kemp’s refreshing new video podcast, The Locker Room.
“Gal (Paul Gallen) speaks his mind., we need more players to speak their mind. I’ve done it before. I’ve said something in the paper and it’s used as Ammo for another team.
“We might see a change. The Queenslanders weren’t happy but I think the media guys got a lot out of Gal’s honest interview (before OriginI II).
“It’s a bit of pressure on him, too, to stand up.”
Here they, are then: the 12 players keeping the flame of individuality burning in the NRL
12. KEVIN GORDON
RUMOUR has it that when Titans trainer Trevor Gilmeister first saw the winger’s sumo haircut, his ears began emitting steam. But the Filipino international and part-time DJ is unbowed, posing on his own Instagram account in all sorts of whacky scenarios, from Lord Of The Rings scenes to pensive portraits with the Gold Coast in the background. Often, he has no shirt on. These sorts of expressions would have put a target on his head in any previous era but rivals seem to except Kev as being a little eccentric and treat him like everyone else. Culturally, that’s a big step forward for the game.
11. SAM THAIDAY
READERS of this esteemed organ know columnist Sam Thiaday’s always got something to say. When cockroaches call you “Third Man In Thaiday” for six weeks a year, it can go one of two ways. Thankfully, Sam takes it all in his stride and has earned respect even from those who like to boo him. He’s also turned his career around after losing the Broncos captaincy and – subsequenty – losing quite a few kilos. A few years earlier, Sam lost a habit that certainly made him stand out from the crowd – he stopped smoking! “I wasn’t that bad but I’m actually glad I gave that up – it’s probably one of the silliest choices I’ve made in my life,” he says. But what is this list about, if not silly choices?
10. DAVID KLEMMER
IT’S not your imagination. David Klemmer really does pick “victims” in advance. When he takes the ball from the kick-off, the 200 cm Canterbury prop says, “”Whoever I see, I try to spot someone and run as hard as I can at them. I’ve probably got someone lined up to run at before the kick-off. As soon as I get it, I’m going straight for him.” Like fellow NSW prop David Woods, Klemmer loves old school rock and old school football. That got under the skin of Corey Parker in State of Origin, where he accused Klemmer of lacking respect. You’ll be reading about this fellow for years to come. He is said to have earned the respect of fellow NSW forwards by wrestling Paul Gallen in camp.
9. PAUL GALLEN
RUGBY league’’s Twitter king, Gal showed an aptitude for biting honesty up to a decade ago but media outlets took their time spotting his potential. The NSW captain’s public utterances often cause drama – like his rumination on the position of “any c—- at the NRL’ and the position of former Sharks coach Peter Sharp. Whi;e Gallen no doubt fancies a media career upon retirement, it’s not like he’s playing up to the microphone – more like pretending it’s not there. “’m still the same bloke off the field,” he said when we featured him in our A-List section a few years back. “It’s just I probably get along with media a bit more these days. I’m always nice to everyone and most people are nice to me. That’s just part of the job. To be a captain, I’ve to got to do all those things right. If I wasn’t doing those things right, I wouldn’t be a good captain and people would find me out.”
8. JAMES MALONEY
FRANKLY, we were disappointed in Country Origin coach Trent Barrett when he said Jimmy would have to change is persona to be considered a leader. Well, he didn’t actually say that – but it’s how some people interpreted it when the new Manly box told Nick Walshaw, formerly of this parish, ““Jimmy likes to be the joker but if that’s all you ever expect of someone, that’s all they’ll ever give you.” We like jokers and Maloney has always been one, to the extent that some of his old team-mates at Melbourne didn’t know how to take him. ““It was all just … I walk in, I am who I am and that’s the way it was,” says Maloney, who has taken his irascibility to a wider audience, via Channel Nine, recently. Don’t change, Jimmy.
7. GEORGE ROSE
IT’S easy to dismiss George Rose’s position as a rugby league cult figure as a function of his rolly-polly physique. But Rose is as popular for the smile on his face as the paunch in his jersey. Sadly, not only does the game quietly discourage outspoken players – it is also legislating against men of Rose’s grith. The decrease in the number of permitted interchange players will likely lead to their extinction. “I think they mustn’t be enjoying the way we play,” Georgey told Fairfax. “I’m going to watch some old Nathan Blacklock highlight reels and try to be a bit more entertaining so they keep us in the game.”
6. JAMIE SOWARD
Leave it to Jamie when you want someone to say what everyone else is thinking. Last week he explained – on national television – the conspiracy theory surrounding using the video referee as much as possible for the sake of sponsors KFC. “Bryce Cartwright scored right in front of the ref and he went up to see if he grounded it. I said ‘oh, mate, you were a metre away, you’re just going up to see if it’s chicken time’, A stint with London Broncos has made Soward a more measured character. He told A-List: “I guess the easiest way to sum it up is you either love or hate Jamie Soward. There’s no in between.”
5. JOSH REYNOLDS
HERE’S the definition of being a footy hero, a “character’ in professional sports: you are sitting on the bench. You have not played a second of the match. Ten metres behind you, thousands of gans are chanting your name … over and over again. That’s what Canterbury five-eighth Josh Reynolds experienced on June 29 at Belmore Sports Ground, during the game against Melbourne. His nickname is grub and Bulldogs fans love him for it. Jim Dymock gave him the nickname, after “Grub” Henderson, Matt Nable’s character in the 2007 film, the Final Winter. “When I was, 16 or 17, I just sort of said to myself ‘I’m going to have to probably train a bit harder than everybody else because I haven’t got the natural talent, natural strength, natural build of a footy player’,” he recalls. And the fans probably love him for that as much as anything.
4. ISSAC LUKE
THESE days, it’s mainly the cheeky grin that provides a glimpse of what Issac “Bully” Luke is all about. He used to be one of the NRL’s most quotable players but certainly isn’t trying to be the next Fletch or Hindy. But Issac is a one-off – who can ever forget his admission that he tried to break cousin Rangi Chase’s leg in 2011? Before the series, he told A-List: ““Rangi’s a bit suspect but I guess he likes white people!” One can only wonder about what would have happened to this lad who used to beat bullies up in front of their parents to teach them a lesson if rugby league hadn’t come along.
3. AARON WOODS
WESTS Tigers coach Jason Taylor thought he’d heard it all until a couple of Fridays ago. That’s when his prop, Aaron Woods, approached him on the occasion of his 100th first grade game, against Melbourne at Leichhardt Oval. He wanted to know if he could bring his dog into the dressingroom. And so the modern day Geoff Robinson did, after also taking said canine on his lap of honour at fulltime. Then there was the commemorative banner which he failed to successful crash through at the start of the night. Like front row partner David Klemmer, he geed himself up for Origin II by listening to old school rock like The Screaming Jets. “I’m not sure he would have been born when our first record came out,” says Jets singer Dave Gleeson.
2. WILLIE MASON
SPEND any time on the sideline at a game win which Willie Mason is involved and you’ll realise he needs the jokes, sledging and wise-cracking to focus on the contest. Contrary to popular belief the sledging is only a small part of the repertoire. Mason cajoles team-mates, chats with sideline eyes and photographers and takes the Mick out of opponents in equal measure. “When you have a look at my scrapbook and rapsheet, I haven’t done a thing wrong,” he told A-List in 2010. “I can walk around at the end of the day with my head held high. I’ve made a few mistakes. I’ve urinated in public twice. I don’t think I’m the only bloke in the world to do that.”
1. NATE MYLES
UNFORTUNATELY for Nate, some people remember him for one Central Coast misadventure and have forever left him in the “serious” basket. The man is a comic genius – he has the timing and subtlety that other league funnymen lack. This is the fellow, during the superheroes round, who after clashing with Ashton Sims, told referee Gavin Badger “he’s Thor, he’s scary, he’s got a hammer”. After a Canberra try last year, he approached the referee and said “put one of our centres in the bin, he can’t tackle.” Myles is smart, funny, and knows how to put drama behind him. His support of his wife Tessa’s battle with cancer has won him plenty of new admirers.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK