By STEVE MASCORD
WE are constantly told that rugby league players have become vanilla, clichéd, boring. Either that, or that they are uneducated hoodlums.
The idea that they can be engaging, interesting, intriguing people is something that rarely enters the public imagination.
There could be a number of reasons for this.
Current NRL media guidelines do not guarantee any in-depth profile-type interviews at all … absolutely none. They are, instead, aimed at providing soundbites and clips to feed the churn of the day-to-day news cycle.
And what clubs don’t have to do, they more often than not don’t do.
Another reason would be players being burned by tabloid headlines and being unwilling to share anything of their personalities with reporters. And then there’s coaches, who tend to be bigger beat-up merchants than journalists when it comes to using the comments of rivals for motivational purposes.
But as a reporter, we talk to players before and after the digital voice recorder flashes green. We observe body language. We see how players interact with each other and with fans and officials … and there are some very interesting dudes out there.
Here’s a selection
FOR years, Greg Inglis was a quiet monolith. He destroyed defences on a weekly basis and said little the rest of the time. When South Sydney signed him from Melbourne in 2011, chief executive Shane Richardson famously declared “I think we just secured our 21st premiership”. Inglis soon began to appreciate his capacity to do good, particularly in the indigenous community. He worked on his public speaking – which has come in handy since he become captain of Souths. The transformation has been absorbing – and it will be very interesting indeed to see what Inglis does upon retirement.
BENJI Marshall has grown up in public. From that outrageous flick pass to Pat Richards in 2005 to calm organiser with the Dragons, a decade later, it’s not always been a comfortable ride. His time at Wests Tigers ended acrimoniously when he was dubbed “Benchy Marshall” before a failed foray into rugby union. Along the way, Benji learned to be humble – and he’s likely to be rewarded by a return to the Kiwis number seven jersey in October. “I thought I was going alright – and no-one was telling me that I wasn’t,” Marshall says of his tome at Wests Tigers. “Sometimes you need to hear the truth, especially when you’re an older player, or else you get caught just coasting and that’s what I was doing. I just got too comfortable in my position. There was never a time when I was under pressure from someone else coming through who was going to take my position Even my family wouldn’t say anything, which is … which is a shame.”
EVEN when ‘Choc’ wasn’t doing interviews – back when Manly were under intense media scrutiny – he would be cracking jokes with us.
Watmough comes across as stand-offish and friendly at the same time, a combination that seems to make absolutely no sense but has led to a budding radio career. ““The scrutiny that I was under at the time was pretty daunting and it was pretty hard on – not just myself but – my family,” he once told A-List. “My mum takes it harder than anyone, the things that are written. Me, my family, everyone around me, knew that I wasn’t a serial killer. I was on the front, back and middle pages every day for a while there. You don’t get anywhere fighting against the people who write about you every week. It’s more along the lines of just – grow up a bit, bite the bullet, get on with life.”
JAMES Graham is one of the more intelligent, humorous and engaging players in the NRL. Then he crosses the sideline; It’s the British Bulldog who was found guilty of biting Billy Slater’s ear in the 2012 grand final, and whose confrontation with referee Gerard Sutton sparked crowd trouble after the infamous South Sydney clash in April. Graham has also argued that if he wants to play on with concussion, he should be allowed to do so. It’s been suggested that Graham plays without concern for his own safety – or that of anyone else. ““In hindsight now, you just get on with it, but at the time you’re trying to get that point across,” he said a few days later. “Stakes are high, emotions are high and that’s not an excuse for questioning the referees decision because really, he’s not going to change his mind. It’s obviously not good behaviour, it’s not a good look.”
CONTRASTS are intriguing – and Michael Ennis is a man of contrast. On the field, he never shuts up and is known as one of the competition’s
primo sledgers. Off it, he’s a polished media performer, deep thinker and passionate advocate for players. His on-field ferocity becomes a joke, role play. But which one is the real Michael Ennis? ““I guess I skate a fine line,” he told A-List. “Well, not exactly skate a fine like but I have a competitive nature. I don’t know – not dirty things. Just competitive. I believe you should just get as much out of each game as you can. I could sit here and preach about what a good guy I am and how I’ve got kids and how I’m a nice family man but that’s not what I’m about, that’s not who I am. It doesn’t really worry me what people think.”
IN all my years as a radio sideline eye, no player has ever stopped a fulltime conversation with a rival so I could interview that rival. No player except Jared Warea-Hargreaves, who made it clear to his fellow player talking to thousands of listeners was more important than shooting the breeze with him. Before he was injured, JWH was the form prop in the NRL. He’s 198cm and weighs 116 kg but is also possibly the most gentle, softly spoken rugby league player on earth. “Schoolkids picked on me a little,” he told an incredulous A-List a few years back, “but then I started eating my veges and I had this little growth spurt!”
‘GIFTY’ Stewart has a bit of his brother Brett – the ‘wronged’ bit – and some of Anthony Watmough – the ‘reticent’ bit – in his complex make-up. He was aggrieved at his brother’s treatment at the hands of the NRL and the media, then about being forced out of the club without receiving an offer. There was rampant speculation about a rift with Daly Cherry Evans, who supposedly got his wages. Yet like Watmough, Stewart has mellowed somewhat and seems to have a decent relationship with the media for the first time. After his first game against Manly, he commented: “they’re all mates of mine … most of them”.
IT takes a lot for the public to take the side of journalists but Darius Boyd’s monosyllabic “media opportunities” at St George Illawarra and
Newcastle did the trick. “Yes”, “no” and “next question” came across very poorly on television, as did his response to being doorstopped by a reporter as he left Origin camp. But things changed dramatically for Boyd when good friend Alex McKinnon broke his neck last year. Boyd quit the game, sought help for depression and is now considered a future captain of the Brisbane Broncos. Boyd never knew his father but received a letter last year from a man claiming to be just that.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK