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
SIX hundred and thirteen days after their last away away, Parramatta were teased, prodded and eventually rewarded by football fate at Suncorp Stadium.
Coach Brad Arthur was in the job for the first time when the Eels beat Parramatta at the same venue in July 2012.
During an enthralling 80 minutes on Friday night before 32,009 fans, there were times when the Eels looked certain to fall short, and others when victory seemed inevevitable.
In the end, it wasn’t until halfback Chris Sandow kicked a 42-metre field goal with five minutes left that the away drought was assured of ending.
Earlier, hooker Nathan Peats had forced his way over from dummy half after former Bronco Corey Norman bent back the home side’s defence on the previous tackle.
Brisbane has claimed the lead for the first time 11 minutes into the second session. Halfback Ben Hunt had burst into the clear, dummied outside to Ben Barba, and crossed near the posts for a converted try.
The seesawing continued nine minutes later, Parramatta fullback Jarryd Hayne beating Josh Hoffman one-on-one and the video referees clearing the Eels of obstruction in awarding the try.
Brisbane took four minutes to reclaim the ascendancy, when Parra winger Ken Sio fumbled a bomb. The video officials painstakingly checked possible knock-ons in the air by Alex Glenn and Todd Lowrie before giving prop Josh McGuire the touchdown.
With a minute left in the fist half, Parramatta were sitting pretty after scoring two sizzling tries which piloted them to a 10-0 lead – 613 days after their last away win.
At 24 minutes, prop Peni Taripo and halfback Chris Sandow combined over 50 metres, Sandow’s pass being knocked down by Broncos winger Daniel Tupou in the north-eastern corner.
The ball was snapped up by centre Will Hopoate who scored, Sandow unable to convert from the touchline.
The second blue-and-gold try was even more eye-catching.
Winger Semi Radradra was involved in the start and also finished off the 85-metre movement.
Hopoate and ex-Bronco Corey Norman also chimed in but Radradra produ dd the star turn as he powered down the left wing, ignored the support of Willie Tonga, and stumbled through Ben Barba’s attempted tackle to score.
Video referees Steve Clark and Grant Atkins ruled the ball had not touched the ground while Barba had a hand on Radradra, allowing the try, and Sandow’s goal brought up that 10-point advantage.
But iconic Broncos centre Justin Hodges was not happy to clock-watch.
Darting out of dummy half, Hodges palmed off Norman, sucked in two of his team-mates and then off-loaded one-handed to winger Dale Copley.
With a clear run to the line, Copley did his job and Corey Parker’s conversion narrowed the margin to four for the break,
Before kickoff, the Eels lost prop FuiFui MoiMoi to a badly cut leg.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
By STEVE MASCORD
JOSH Hoffman is said to have greeted reporters for his first media opportunity this year by saying “haven’t seen you guys for a while”.
The smiling 27-year-old Titans fullback was a favourite of reporters during his six years at the Broncos. The Mackay product was always co-operative and good for a quote – perhaps too much so in the eyes of his club, at times.
But things went sour at Red Hill. Not once, but twice. First, while he was away at the World Cup, club-mate Justin Hodges was quoted as saying he was not fullback material. Hoffman’s father Shane attacked Hodges on social media, calling him a “dog”.
Then the cousin of new Queensland rep Dane Gagai – and relative of Wendell Sailor, Ben Barba and Travis Waddell – was repeatedly photographed with Canterbury members of the Kiwis squad – and asked for a release.
There was a season of truce while the Broncos waited for Anthony Milford and Wayne Bennett to arrive – and Hoffman finally got the hell out of Dodge, although only an hour down the freeway.
During it all, Josh maintained an uncharacteristic silence in the mainstream media – even if his social media accounts remained entertaining. This year, he’s dressed up as superhero for the club website, posted Instagram videos to kill the time during the commute to and from training – but has been interviewed only briefly.
A-List meets Josh during a break in training at Burleigh Leagues Club, overlooking the Gold Coast Titans’ new training ground. New, because they were kicked out of a school facility when the drugs story broke earlier this year.
A couple of times, looking back over the past couple of years, Josh will use an expression like “this blew up in the media” … before going onto confirm the story concerned was more or less right. There’s much to catch up with since he last spoke in depth about pretty-much anything. We’ll not pussyfoot around….
HOFFMAN left Brisbane for Gold Coast this year with a season left on his contract. “I had the chance to go in and meet Wayne (Bennett). I didn’t really even have to say much. He sort of knew my position. He just said Darius was coming to the club and he wanted Darius to play fullback and he said ‘I know that’s your preferred position and I’m not going to hold you back from going out there and finding another opportunity’. In saying that, he said ‘you’re signed with the Broncos and you’re welcome to stay here and you’ve always got a club here’. He was really good like that. At the time, Canberra were in the mix and Ricky (Stuart) was chasing pretty hard I had a young family, I had a little girl and my wife as well and we were trying to decide on whether we wanted to move to Canberra. It was a little bit too far away considering my wife and her mother were very close. We wanted to stay somewhere … stay in Brisbane. And the Warriors were chasing as well.
“There was a little bit of talk and a little bit of interest (from rugby union) but I don’t think they pushed too hard on getting me over there. That would have been another thing I would have considered but I really wanted to stay and play rugby league. I felt like I had more to give to the game. I rang my manager up and he rang around and I said ‘what about Gold Coast, do you reckon they’d be keen?’ and he gave Neil (Henry) a ring and we set up a meeting and happy days.”
A YEAR earlier, Hoffman had asked for a release while at the World Cup. “I wasn’t sure where I was going to be in the future because of everything happening at the club and my positional changes with everywhere I was being moved. I just didn’t know where I was going to fit in the team and I felt like there was no certainty there at the club. I spoke to Hook (Anthony Griffin) and asked for a release … like I said to Wayne, if I could find other opportunities out there to play fullback. I guess things went a bit sour after that. I stayed at the club. The best thing for me is I didn’t go around kicking stones and dragging my lip on the ground and feeling sorry for myself.
THE matter came to a head when veteran Broncos centre Justin Hodges was quoted as saying Hoffman was not the answer for the club at fullback. “Coming from your own team-mate, you sort of … I know I was young at the time and I took it the wrong way and I understand where Justin was coming from; the Broncos were looking for someone who could ball-play, someone who could be another five-eighth and my game, it’s purely a running game. I like to bring the ball back hard and get as many metres as I can. That’s just what I do. At the time I took it as a personal attack and I got a bit upset after that. That was another thing that made me want to leave the club as well. Having your own team-mate say that, it’s made my confidence go down a bit.” But he never approached Hodges over the slight. “I didn’t want to cause drama over it because at the time we were trying to keep our season alive. I didn’t want to cause drama between team-mates.”
AT the World Cup, Hoffman was photographed with Bulldogs players repeatedly, leading to intense speculation he was headed to Belmore. “I was walking down the street in Manchester and I was with big Sammy (Kasiano) and Franky (Pritchard) and Greggy Eastwood and they were in my ear, telling me to come to the Doggies, you know? They were trying to get me over there. And I was like ‘boys, I’m still with the Broncos and I’ve still got two years left and this and that. Being stubborn boys, they just kept pushing and pushing. We eventually got a photo together and it got in the paper and I think the Broncos took it the wrong way and it was blown out of proportion. It was a bit hard being over in the UK and reading all this stuff on the website and being asked about it as well, getting attacked on Twitter from fans and that. It was pretty hurtful but there’s nothing you can do about that. Everyone’s got their opinions. “
HOFFMAN was overlooked for selection by the Kiwis at the end of the tournament and has not played for his father’s country since. “We played against Papua New Guinea and I did my shoulder and it was bothering me at the time. Steve (Kearney) knew I wasn’t 100 per cent but I was adamant I wanted to play. I guess he thought it was in the best interests of the team to play Kevin Locke. At the time, I was a bit disappointed, a bit angry about it because I would really have loved to finish the World Cup off playing in the finals but the boys really did well to get to the final.”
JOSH appears to be facing an up-hill battle to make the touring squad for England at the end of this season. “There’s a lot of competition for the fullback spot. Dallin (Watene-Zelezniak) has been playing a lot of fullback since (Matt) Moylan’s been out, he’s been going really well. And Roger (Tuivasa-Skeck) is the incumbent fullback at the moment. He’s been playing really good footy. There’s a lot of competition there and also in the backline as well. At this stage I’m just focusing on the Titans. If we can get some wins together, hopefully we can get to play in September.”
BUT since Hoffman signed on with the Titans, Aiden Sezer plus Nate Myles have left and Daley Cherry Evans announced he would not be joining, as originally agreed. DCE “It is a big loss for the club and something Neil’s going to have to shuffle around. I’d hate to be in his shoes right now, trying to figure out what he’s going to do for next year. But I guess in saying that we need to focus on this year. It was disappointing and sad to see Nate leave – such a great player with great experience. I really look up to him.’
Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
MITCHELL Pearce and Boyd Cordner on Friday night did their bit to decimate Brisbane’s Friday night economy.
With 1:45 left in the Broncos-Sydney Roosters epic at Suncorp Stadium, most of the 33,381 crowd was eying a bar on nearby Caxton Street and after that, destination unknown with the home side headed to a famous victory, leading the premiers 26-24.
But halfback Pearce found second-rower Cordner arrow towards the left upright and the 11th hour try ruined – and probably ended – the nights of many. For the Broncos, the operation was a success but the patient died during a breakneck second half when the lead changed every few minutes.
A brisk first half finished at 12-12. Brisbane halfback Ben Hunt, taking the ball on the blindside in the south-western corner, threw a dummy and glided over for the opening try in the sixth minute, which was duly converted by Corey Parker.
But former Rooster Martin Kennedy lost the ball from the kickoff in a thunderous tackle And ex-team-mate Michael Jennings scored from the next set. Jennings stepped inside Dale Copley with apparent ease, James Maloney tying the scores on 10 minutes.
Roosters prop Sam Moa seemed to be stopped well short of the line five minutes later but his formidable leg drive propelled him across the stripe, grounding the ball for a converted try despite the attentions of several defenders. The premiers seemed to be on a roll and they were sternly tested for an extended period at Brisbane launched incessant waves of attack at the southern end they defended.
Hunt’s kick was fumbled by Anthony Minichiello under his own posts and Sam Thaiday pounced, saluting a rapturous crowd after planting the ball in the in-goal.
Parker snaffled an easy goal and that was the sum total of the first half’s scoring.
Sydney Roosters replacement Kane Evans was reported for a high shot on Matt Gillett in the 30th minute and Jake Friend went off for concussion assessment not long afterwards.
When an in-goal divot delayed a Sydney Roosters line dropout just after halftime, Parker walked over and put the turf back in place.
His immediate reward for the sense of urgency was his team reclaiming the lead, via his own penalty goal after 44 minutes,
Anthony Minichiello had been penalised for delaying tactics in front of his own posts; “that’s three in a row,” Parker told Shayne Hayne, “someone’s got to go.”
But Brisbane’s shifting of gears was more lavishly rewarded when Hunt cut out Copley with a pass that found winger Lachlan Maranta, who dashed over in the north-eastern corner.
Parker’s missed touch line conversion left a six-point Broncos advantage – but it didn’t last long.
Parker complained defender Josh Hoffman was obstructed by decoy Mitch Aubusson as Tricolours centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall crossed out wide. “He held him up for half a second – which was the difference between Hoffy getting him and not.”
Video referees Luke Patten and Steve Clark disagreed, flashing the green light for a converted try which again tied the scores.
The Broncos then seemed to won the game with a merciless one-two punch. First, Jack Reed forced his way over off Josh Hoffman’s pass, then Hunt was rewarded for an outstanding evening by scrambling over for a four-pointer of his own.
SYDNEY ROOSTERS 30 (B Cordner M Jennings S Kenny-Dowall S Moa R Tuivasa-Sheck tries J Maloney 5 goals) bt BRISBANE 26 (B Hunt 2 L Maranta J Reed S Thaiday tries C Parker 3 goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Referees: S Hayne/ C James. Crowd: 33,381.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
THERE were 42,303 people at Suncorp Stadium but few would have been more relieved at Brisbane hooker Andrew McCullough’s winning try against North Queensland than Broncos prop Josh McGuire.
Nearing a half century of tackles, McCullough celebrated the decision of Australia captain Cameron Smith not to take his jersey next year by backing up a Dale Copley break to dive over with six minutes left in the Queensland derby, securing a 16-12 win.
“I was on the bench and I started choking one of our water runners, I was that excited,” Samoan international McGuire said.
And with good reason; the 106 kg 24-year-old was reported twice – the second offence allowing the Cowboys to take a lead – and was responsible for a Ben Hunt try in the 60th minute being disallowed.
He was booked first for a high tackle on Gavin Cooper and again for diving at the legs of Robert Lui, leading to Cowboys replacement Ashton Sims telling the referees: “He could have broke (sic) his leg”
Of the first incident, McGuire said: “I’ll just cop it on the chin, it was unlucky, it was an accident”. When asked about the second, he claimed to be unaware of the rules regarding challenges on kickers.
“I just sprinted out of the line and he jumped. I didn’t realise he jumped. I didn’t know the rules, to be honest. I thought you could tackle them as long as you wrap your arms.”
But McGuire’s most costly infraction looked like being standing in front of team-mate Ben Hunt when the halfback dashed over for what could have been the winning try in an enthralling struggle.
Without consulting the video referees, on-field officials Ben Cummins and Gavin Reynolds ruled defender Tariq Sims had been illegally obstructed.
“I probably got lazy and didn’t push through fast enough,” McGuire recalled. “I’m a front rower, I don’t get to decide what happens there. I just push up and if he passes me the ball, I take it.
“If he doesn’t, it goes out the back.”
North Queensland attacked right to the death in a mistake-affected, but thrilling contest before a crowd that has put the NRL attendance average for the young season back on track.
Brisbane lock Matt Gillett was put over by Ben Barba early, Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston responded with a converted try of his own and then new five-eighth Josh Hoffman’s kick allowed Daniel Vidot to put the home side ahead 10-6 at the break.
Hoffman, whose agent pressed for a release when Barba was signed in the off-season, broke his media silence after the game.
He was lavish in his praise of Barba, saying: “”He brings that x-factor. He’s got a good voice. His talk … it’s great to have someone like that behind you at the back.
“From being behind there (I know) the forwards, they’re going to need a lot of talk from a fullback. It’s good having that sort of player behind him.”
Asked about his newfound prowess as a tactical kicker, Hoffman said: “”I’ve been looking at a few YouTube videos of Darren Lockyer. He’s got that big left foot. It’s just trying to bring my own thing to the jersey.”
Cooper allowed NQ to draw level nine minutes into the second half, when a kick was tapped down to him by Kyle Feldt, and the 10-10 deadlock was broken by Thurston the second time McGuire was booked.
“It was a great contest, I don’t think it was a particularly great game,” said North Queensland coach Paul Green.
BRISBANE 16 (M Gillett D Vidot A McCullough tries C Parker 2 goals) beat NORTH QUEENSLAND 12 (J Thurston G Cooper tries,Thurston 2 goals) at Suncorp Staidum. Referees: B Cummins/G Reyolds. Crowd: 42,303.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
By STEVE MASCORD
BEN Hunt has read too much negativity about a particular subject to really enjoy talking about it. So when he is asked about it, he tends to give short, polite, somewhat defensive answers.
That subject is: himself.
“Before the season started, a lot of people wrote me off,” the Brisbane Broncos player of the year tells Rugby League Week ahead of the Four Nations kick-off this Friday.
“People were saying ‘he’s going to be no good’ at halfback.. So I just tried to go out there and do what I could. I’ve learned not to read too much into things. There are always rumours and speculation and opinion.
“You can’t take it too seriously. You’ve just got to get on with your life.”
And this 24-year-old’s life is worth exploring, regardless of how expansive or not he chooses to be in discussing it. From being stuck at hooker to being struck by the sacking of ‘Hook’, it’s a rip roaring yarn of succeeding in one of the most famous jerseys in the game when just every every9one – as outlined above – said he couldn’t.
But it’s when we move away from the story of B Hunt that the St Brendan’s Yeppoon junior starts to loosen up. It’s when we move onto the top du jour, one J Hayne, that walls come down.
“I’ve only spoken to Matty Gillett about it, just last night, and he thinks it’s crazy but also very, very exciting – like, good on him,” Hunt says, suddenly sounding like a bloke having a mag over the back fence.
“It would be a massive thing for him to make it but he is freak athlete.
“I think it does have a broader meaning. Other players do look to other sports, like rugby union, to prove that they can do something different, play something else, and the NFL is one of the biggest competitions in the world.
“These days, you play your five or six years of rugby league and then you’re looking for a change, to challenge yourself and prove you can do it. Like, in union, you can play all around the world and see all these other countries.”
Hayne’s shock departure has, of course, led to claims that rugby league could have been better protected against this trend if it had done more to expand since its inception in 1895. Hunt reckons this would help retain some players, but not all.
“For some guys, yes,” he explains. “They do change for the lifestyle so if they could travel around the world or something, they might stay in league.
“But for others it’s about testing themselves. They want to prove they can make it in another sport, that’s their reason.”
Hunt agrees that the internet and the globalisation of media has resulted in players looking beyond the NRL and beyond rugby league for role models.
“The world has changed,” he said. “People are getting married later …. There are so many options out there and because others have done it, there are opportunities to play other sports.”
Perhaps our players feel comfortable talking about what lies beyond the game’s borders because no coach or CEO is going to hold it against them.
Internally, politics creates a maze for interviewees.
The entire Brisbane first grade squad was loyal to coach Anthony ‘Hook’ Griffin. When he was sacked in late July, they halfback’s form suffered and he considered throwing himself on the open market.
“We all got called in for a meeting with Hook and Paul White but there were rumours around, we knew what was going on,” said Hunt.
“He had faith in me when pretty much no-one else did so I’ll always be grateful for that.”
Hunt’s father, Geoff, said this was the time his son came closest to leaving the Broncos. Frustrated at the treatment meted out to Griffin, he said he was willing to test his value on the open market.
“I spoke to a couple of people, had a talk about what other clubs might be able to offer,” he recalled.
“But I didn’t look into it too much. It was in the back of my mind. There were a number of reasons (why I didn’t).
“I like living in Brisbane. My partner’s always been with me here. I think the club has a good future, I think Wayne Bennett will be good.”
When Brisbane were eliminated from the premiership race by North Queensland on the first weekend of the finals, Hunt was not expecting much. “I thought ‘footy’s over, time to relax, take it easy, get away.”
Instead, after polling well in the Dally Ms with votes (but Daly Cherry Evans beating him into the team of the year on five fewer votes), things have got a little crazy post-season for the Rockhampton-born footballer.
At the Broncos presentation night, he was named player of the year by a clear margin. He took out the fans’ favourite, the best back and players’ player.
Straight from the Brisbane Convention Centre, he travelled to the airport and onto Cairns for an overnight stay, before continuing to Kokopo and a starring role in the Australian Prime Ministers XIII’s 34-16 win over PNG.
(“What sticks out in my mind is how hard they hit … they tackle full-blast – and how passionate the fans are, they know everything about you”)
He was out of camp before the Four Nations long enough move into a new house.
At the Broncos presentation, club CEO Paul White publically thanked Hunt for not testing his value on the open market – but recounted a story of the no.7 getting his message across regarding negotiations by rewriting a Status Quo song at a barbecue.
Hunt explains: “There was a barbecue over at Anthony Griffin’s house and a few of us were in the middle of negotions.
“Anyway, a few of the boys started singing ‘Down, down, prices are down’.”
Hunt reveals this year is not the first time in his five years at the club that he thought about leaving. When he was stuck at hooker, a position he disliked, “I had a bit of a talk to a few people.
“There were some clubs …. A couple in Sydney, some in other places. But I was facing the same thing I had in Brisbane. I would have to force my way in and take someone else’s position.”
Success means more to Ben Hunt because he’s had to work at it, play out of position and prove a lot of people wrong. Arguably, he represents Anthony Griffin’s lasting legacy at the club.
“You see some players, they come straight out of the blocks as soon as they come into first grade,” he says. “Yeah, it does mean more, that it didn’t happen like that for me.”
Ben Hunt had better get used to reading some good things about himself.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
WHEN we went to Parramatta with claims Chris Sandow had played in an aboriginal knockout and been sent off for a shoulder charge followed by an elbow, Eels CEO Scott Seward told us: “He had permission to play. He passed a medical and the coach gave him his blessing. Chrissy has told us he was sent to the sin bin for a shoulder charge on a childhood friend. It was a bit of a joke between them.” But bootleg video on YouTube above appears to show a dismissal – with the elbow chiefly to blame. When Seward put this to Sandow, he insisted he wasn’t aware he had been sent off, only sin binned. We can’t find any record of a judiciary hearing. The title for the Murri Carnival at Redcliffe two weeks ago changed hands when it was discovered the winners, Murri Dingoes Blue, fielded a player who mistakenly believed his drugs suspension had expired. Parra’ refused permission for Joseph Paulo and Bereta Faraimo to play for the US in the Mitchelton Nines on Saturday.
PUNCHING ON 1
WE have often heard this year that “little guys wouldn’t be pushing big guys if they could still be punched”. It was just a theory until the Super League grand final, when little Lance Hohaia pushed big Ben Flower, then lunged at him with a raised forearm. As we know, Hohaia punched Flower twice, the second time when he was on his back, possibly unconscious. They both missed the rest of the game, leaving St Helens to limp to victory as they have all year. Had Flower – who left Old Trafford before fulltime – not opted out of Wales duty, he could at least have counted the upcoming European internationals against what will no doubt be a mammoth suspension. Condemnation of Flower has been widespread and almost unanimous. Soccer star Joe Barton Tweeted he had “little sympathy” for Hohaia because of the provocation, but later stressed he did not intend to defend the Welshman.
PUNCHING ON 2
LIKE Wigan’s Super League campaign, the proud 15-year-plus history of the United States Tomahawks may have come to an end with a punch at the weekend. The USARL is taking over running the game in the US and is likely to dispense with the old AMNRL trademark, meaning it was all on the line when the Americans trailed invitational side Iron Brothers 8-4 with three minutes left in a Nines quarter-final in Brisbane. The Tomahawks got the ball back but sometime-cage fighter Tui Samoa took umbrage to something a rival said and punched him. Water carrier Paulo – banned, as we said, by Parramatta from playing – helped separate them, Samoa was sent to the bin and Brothers scored again to eliminate the US 14-4.
GRACIOUSNESS AND GAFFES
AND what a mixed bag we had for rugby league public speaking at the weekend. On the plus side, congrats to departing Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin, the club’s player of the year Ben Hunt and CEO Paul White for their oratory at the club presentation. “Ben Hunt was entitled to test his value on the open market but he didn’t,” White told around 500 guests. “Although at a backyard barbecue I was at, he did get his message across to me by changing the words of the Status Quo song to ‘down, down, prices are down”. Griffin said: “Whatever I do now, I’ll be a competitor. But I’ll never be a critic of this club or the people in it.” On the negative, St Helens’ Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, at fulltime on live TV: “I’m absolutely buzzing. I could fucking swear”. Yes, he said those words – in that order.
SOUTHS chief executive Shane Richardson has savaged the running of the international game in Britain’s The Observer. “I look at the state of international rugby league and it just makes me angry,” Richardson – citing the departure of Sam Burgess as a symptom of the problem – said. “I know from the years I’ve spent in the game, and the contacts I’ve made in business, and the places I’ve been around the world, that there’s a potential to do so much more.” Nevertheless, Greece played their first home international at the weekend, beating the Czechs 68-16 in Athens, the Philippines defeated Vanuatu 32-16 on remote Santo and Norway were preparing to meet Thailand in Bangkok. Next weekend, Latin America faces Portugal and Fiji takes on Lebanon, both in Sydney while Tonga take on PNG in Lae and the European Championships commence.
RETIRING ON A HIGH
REPORTS of veteran rugby league photographer Col Whelan’s retirement were greatly exaggerated last year. The NRL weren’t quite ready to take over Col’s operation and he went around in 2014 for one last season – wearing a South Sydney cap to every game. NRL rules prohibit media from wearing club merchandise but the media areas are full of uniformed club staff posting on social media, an inconsistency the irascible snapper sought to highlight. At fulltime on grand final day in the bunnies rooms, players became concerned Col had stopped shooting. He was crying with happiness. At the Red and Green ball, Whelan presented every player with a disc containing 120 photos of their life-defining triumph. What a way to go out – enjoy your retirement, Col.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
By STEVE MASCORD
THERE Is something unnatural – even mean-spirited – about the finals.
For 26 weeks, rugby league is just THERE. Some weekends, there aren’t eight NRL games but no matter how well or otherwise your team plays, there’ll be a match to watch again in a minimum of a fortnight
That’s 24 matches in all – pain, sweat, ecstacy, danger, drama and heartbreak. Leave aside the commercial aspect and look at it as a football competition – 1920 minutes are played purely for the right to make the finals.
Once there, the maximum number of minutes of football you will be afforded is 320. The mathematics, therefore, answer the most basic of questions: how much more important is a final than a regular season match?
Six times more important. Every minute in a final is worth six during the home and away rounds. Put another way, the NRL season is the equivalent of running six times around a track to decide whether you make the final one-lap sprint, and what your handicap will be.
But it’s those six laps that often give us our best stories and our memories. Those six laps are what makes a season for most of us, not the hare-like sprint at the end.
From a logic standpoint, the play-offs are clearly an artifice – a construct intended to add excitement and therefore profitability to the back end of a sporting competition. We are often told performances under the pressure of sudden death are “the true test” of a team.
Who says? Why? Surely how many tries and goals you score, and how few you concede, are more impartial barometers. That’s why Manly coach Geoff Toovey said the minor premiers were not given enough credit.
Here at League Week, we’ve tried to redress the balance this week by recording and honouring the players and teams who passed the post first in 2014.
A football season is often described as “a journey” but for your correspondent, it has been many. At the time of writing, I have travelled 162,922 km this year, mostly in pursuit of rugby league.
A season for me is a blur of airports, insane taxi-drivers, rental car desks, wifi passwords and hotel loyalty programmes. What do you ask Greg Inglis after he scores the try of the century? How do you report Alex McKinnon’s injury when no-one will talk about it? How do you get Steve Matai and Anthony Watmough to comment on reports they’ve just asked for a release?
Here are my moments of the season – from the point of view of a travelling hack trying to cover them for radio, newspapers and the great Rugby League Week. They are feats which weren’t only observed, they were lived (your favourite memory may have missed the cut for a simple reason – I wasn’t there).
April 14: MELBOURNE SCORES AFTER THE BELL TO BEAT ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA
THE NRL would later confirm fulltime should have prevented the Storm scoring the winning try in a 28-24 win. Working for Triple M, your reporter grabbed the winning scorer – Young Tonumaipea – right on fulltime. Unfortunately, we were on the same frequency as another outlet, meaning Young sounded like he was broadcasting from Venus. The mobile phone was quickly produced, and interviews were submitted by email. The trouble with the clock was not immediately obvious but Dragons coach Steve Price told us on air: “When I thought it was zero, he still hadn’t played the ball. We were truly the better team tonight – by far.”
April 20: BIG PAUL VAUGHAN BAGS A TRY ON THE DEATH TO BEAT MELBOURNE’
WE were on the scene within seconds of the Italian International danced nimbly between defenders to score the try of his life. “I just picked up the ball, I don’t know what happened, it happened so fast,” said Vaughan after the 24-22 victory.. “I think there was a loose ball, I saw a couple of lazy defenders and skipped across and gap opened up and I went for it. I thought it might have been a possible obstruction.” It was the Raiders’ third win of the year – they would find them harder to come by over the balance of the camptain.
April 25: GREG INGLIS SCORES LENGTH OF THE FIELD SOLO TRY BEATING SIX DEFENDERS
THERE was a collective withholding of breath in the Suncorp Stadium media box as Inglis set off on this run for the ages. Surely, he won’t get there – will he? Even gnarled hacks applauded when he did. Coming to the South Sydney dressingroom doors later in the evening, Inglis said: “I think anyone can score one of them. You’ve got Benny Barba …you see a try like that from (Michael) Jennings over the years at Penrith. You just see all these naturally gifted players. It’s a bit unfortunate in our game that you don’t see enough of it.” He came close with another beauty in the return encounter.
June 7: CRONULLA WINS FROM 22-0 DOWN
CRONULLA’S season has been bleak by any measure. The ASADA controversy and suspension of coach Shane Flanagan meant 2014 was a write-off from the start. When they arrived at Suncorp Stadium in late Jun,e captain Paul Gallen had publically questioned whether caretaker Peter Sharp was giving 100 per cent. No-one expected them to win and they duly trailed 22-0 after 27 minutes. What followed seemed impossible; the Sharks started their comeback just before halftime and won 24-22. “I think it’s a turning point for the club – it doesn’t matter where we finish this year, and in my career – where we’ll remember when everything turned around,” he said. Days later, Carney would be sacked over the bubbling incident.
June 15: CRONULLA WINS FROM 24-0 DOWN
GENERALLY speaking, I don’t cover Sydney games for the newspaper. There are enough rugby league reporters in Sydney. But when they Sun-Herald gave me one, it was a doozy. Eight days after the biggest comeback in the Sharks’ 47 year history, they broke the record again – by beating the reigning premiers and world champions. Not only that, they did it without Sharp, Carney and captain Paul Gallen. Jeff Robson scored the winner with three minutes remaining, and the Roosters crossed with 11 seconds on the clock but the try was disallowed because the referees were unsighted. “I thought I got it down,” Mitch Aubusson said. Cronulla’s round 25 display in Townsville almost got the wooden spooners three mentions here.
JULY 20: RISE FOR ALEX
NEVER mind that Newcastle lost their home game to Gold Coast, 28, on the Rise For Alex weekend. McKinnon’s injury was the saddest event in the careers of most of us. I covered the match and will never forget that night and what I witnessed and heard from the sidelines. But the Rise For Alex round was a testament to the compassion of the rugby league community and a platform for a brave, stoic young man who has already made a difference n the lives of so many and will continue to be beacon. The character, bravery and hard work of Alex McKinnon and those around him was best thing about 2014, and will remain so no matter what happens over the next four weekends.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK