The Eight Most Intriguing Players In The NRL

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

GREG INGLIS

South Sydney - Greg InglisFOR 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

Marshall, BenjiBENJI 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.”

ANTHONY WATMOUGH

EVEN when ‘Choc’ wasn’t doing interviews – back when Manly were under intense media scrutiny – he would be cracking jokes with us.

Manly - Anthony Watmough

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.”
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JAMES GRAHAM

Graham, JamesJAMES 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.”

MICHAEL ENNIS

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

Canterbury - Michael Ennisprimo 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.”

JARED WEAREA-HARGREAVES

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 Waerea Hargreaves, Jaredplayer 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!”

GLENN STEWART

‘GIFTY’ Stewart has a bit of his brother Brett – the ‘wronged’ bit – and Stewart, Glennsome 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”.

DARUS BOYD

 

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

St George Illawarra - Darius Boyd

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.

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BONDI BEAT: November 2012

By STEVE MASCORD
IT’S a strange thing in rugby league – we laugh at things which would be a crime if they happened in the street.
Take, oh, just picking something random like …. James Graham (allegedly) biting Billy Slater’s ear in the NRL grand final. If it happened up the corner, you’d be straight in the nick for it. If it happened in the boxing ring – where events are generally considered more violent even than on our fields of play – it’s a one-year suspension and a fine with plenty of zeros on it.
But what did we get when Jammer became Jaws? Nothing but puns and frivolity.
It is appropriate to call judicial proceedings a “hearing”? Has rugby league hit a new lobe? He’ll bite your ear off on the field but won’t talk to the media afterwards. He’s the only Bulldog who tasted premiership success. Slater is now in Canterbury’s Book Of Foods.
Biting someone’s ear in most settings is an act of brutality. In rugby league, it fuels jokes. The same goes for many other things. See six men brawling in the street and you’ll be appalled. See it on the rugby league field and you’ll probably cheer.
Broken legs and shredded cruciates don’t exactly prompt Mexican waves but they’re viewed far more seriously in the great majority of real estate that is not a rugby league field. Concussion, on the other hand, is seen as either a triumph of one man over another or a slapstick sideshow.
It’s worth reminding ourselves every now and then that we watch a sport that is not only athletic and demanding but often brutal, violent and desensitising. Got that? Inhale it, mull it over. Still like rugby league, then? OK, I’ll continue.
No-one was seriously hurt in the alleged James Graham offence and it gave rise to some great puns. Puns are infinitely better for the soul and mind than punting, which is endlessly promoted during Australian sporting contests on television these days.
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IN this column we have suggested before that teams frustrated with the wait to join the NRL should apply for a Super League franchise.
Well, during one of those late nights that grand final week demands of us – with Andrew Johns named as the eighth Immortal at the Men of League dinner which followed the grand final breakfast but came before the Carbine Club lunch, I was assured the idea had actually been discussed at a West Australian Rugby League board meeting.
More information as it comes to hand….
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THE ‘Autumn Internationals’ (a confusing name for us, given it is spring here) are even more anonymous in Australia than they are in your part of the world.
But one group of people all too aware that they are on is NRL clubs with English players. Jack Reed is out with shoulder surgery, Chris Heighington’s new club – Cronulla – is not expected to be thrilled about releasing him and if Sam Burgess had not wanted to go to South Africa and on home, you can bet South Sydney would have supported him in staying on the beach.
“I’m not even thinking about it,” was the comment of Melbourne’s Gareth Widdop when we asked him about journey from the rarified atmosphere of a premiership to the high altitudes of South Africa.
And James Graham? Well, this is how the suspension system works for international football in the NRL.
If the ban is longer than the upcoming series, then the games in that series cannot be included in a suspension. If the ban is shorter than the series or tournament, then the suspension can be included. If the suspension is only one game shorter than the international competition, the chairman gets to use his discretion as to whether the ban is served in the tournament or in next year’s club competition.
Stand alone internationals cannot be placed against suspensions in any circumstance. We spend a lot of time criticising officials in columns like this but that’s one rule that we think they’ve just about got right.
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THREE years ago, when Melbourne won a premiership they were subsequently not permitted to keep, I was typing happily away in the press box some time after 10pm when I spied the entire squad, in their suits, taking the Telstra trophy out to halfway at ANZ Stadium.
They stood around, took turns at talking to the group, sung the team song and then splashed beer everywhere.
The Storm did it again this year too. Last August, with Michael Maguire, Ryan Hoffman, Brett Finch and Jeff Lima bringing the tradition with them to Wigan, it happened again at Wembley.
But this year when Warrington attempted a re-enactment, stewards stopped them. They had to make do with sitting in the stands.
There was a nice touch to the ritual after the NRL grand final this year when Channel Seven cameraman Greg Parker was approached by a Melbourne official as he shot events from above the tunnel. I thought he was going to be stopped from filming.
Instead, he was handed a beer.
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SPORTS editors will always tell you that players visiting hospitals are not a story while players putting members of the public in hospital invariably are.
But you have to feel sorry for officials that this next bit of news has been so sparingly reported that even you, rugby league anorak, are likely to have not heard about it.
The Australian Rugby League Commission won world governing body of the year in London during July from the International Beyond Sport Federation for its community engagement policies. That’s pretty major. They had the OneCommunity Awards in grand final week in Sydney, which is actually held on the same scale as the Dally Ms
Johnathan Thurston won the player award and another winner, James Sullivan from WA, flew into ANZ Stadium on a Black Hawk helicopter on grand final day with the NRL trophy.
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SINCE we last broke bread, Brian Smith and Tim Sheens have joined Stephen Kearney and Brian McClennan in being given the bum’s rush.
I have a theory regarding how teams perform when their master has moved on. In the case of unsuccessful coaches, like Kearney, they improve to impress the new man. In the case of successful men, like Nathan Brown and Trent Robinson, they drop their bundle.
The Warriors, however, stayed pretty poor. There are suggestions they are holding out for Craig Bellamy.
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There’s usually too much fixture news in this column. This month I have very little. The World Club Challenge is on in England on February 16. The All Stars game is in Brisbane a week earlier. Manly may be playing Canberra in China some time around then, too.

DISCORD 2012: Edition 39

By STEVE MASCORD
BANNING Junior Kiwis from playing Origin is nowhere near enough of a measure to protect international football from NSW and Queensland recruitment raids.
All it will do in the medium to long term is discourage kids from playing for the Junior Kiwis – and we’ll get more results like last Saturday’s 48-16 win by the Junior Kangaroos.
Rugby League International Federation chairman Scott Carter is right: either the Blues and Maroons stop choosing foreigners or they should allow Origin players to represent other countries.
This is why I don’t like the Independent Commission being so closely linked to Australia, with John Grant reading out the Test team. What is good for rugby league is often not what’s good for Australia – and I’d rather the commission do what’s good for rugby league.
It would be great for the game if the umbilical cord connecting Origin to the Australian team was cut. If you qualify for Origin, you are selected and your country of election is a completely different issue. What a wonderful gesture to rugby league that would be.
And another great gesture would be to pay all NRL players who represent in a full Test the same money – whether it’s for Fiji, Australia or the United States. The impact of this on players’ enthusiasm for the international game would be profound. As of a couple of months ago, we can afford it.
But neither of those things will happen because they are not in the interests of Australia. It’s a real shame.
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ONE thing we should have mentioned last week: If Canterbury’s James Graham did walk off the field on grand final night to tell his coach and chief executive he definitely did not bite Billy Slater, why was it kept secret for four days?
What on earth would be the motivation for not getting it “out there” that the player vehemently denied committing the offence?
When St George Illawarra’s Matt Prior took Johnathan Thurston’s head off in May, the Dragons could not put him in front of cameras and microphones quickly enough. Their PR, Jo Banning, even chased reporters around Dairy Farmers Stadium to make sure they had the quotes.
Sure, the judiciary members aren’t supposed to be influenced by publicity.
But they would have walked into the Graham hearing without anyone having even suggested to them that the England forward didn’t do it. That can’t have helped.
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I’D love to tell you that Bangkok is buzzing with excitement over the Test on Sunday but the fact is I’ve not yet interacted with any rugby league people in my couple of days here.
I am told the Philippines boys arrived yesterday and there’s a big launch for the match on Friday. In case you missed the news, the Thailand-Philippines match is now on Sunday at the Royal Thai Police Stadium, at 7pm Sydney time.
Referees are Gavin and Kasey Badger, understood to be the first husband and wife officiating team in the history of world sport. Their little milestone has even attracted the attention of the British national press.
read on

BONDI BEAT: July 2012

By STEVE MASCORD

THERE’S been a lot written recently about how Super League is very much a case of the haves and have-nots.

Hull KR chairman Neil Hudgell speaks of deals being done between the powerful clubs before they even come to the table at council meetings and of many more teams than Bradford being close to the brink.

Well Bondi Beat has been sniffing around the World Club Challenge talks – there’s a ‘working group’, you know – and we’ve come up with some very interesting information.

Firstly, the most likely venue for the extended World Club Challenge – if we have one next year – is not Las Vegas or Dubai but Sydney.

The Sydney NRL clubs are doing deals with stadia next year which are tied up with a new central venues policy. The League itself will assign games to stadia from next season, as it currently does in finals.

The idea is that marquee games are taken to big venues to make more money – and the clubs can blame the NRL for the decision to move away from their suburban grounds. Other matches will also be doled out to the likes of Darwin, Adelaide, Perth, Wellington, Christchurch and the rest as part of a measure strategy, rather than the piecemeal approach we have now.

In return for giving ANZ Stadium and Allianz Stadium better games, the clubs want food prices dropped and the WCC will be part of the leveraging. It will be sold as a separate TV property and the stadiums will be encouraged to pitch in to promote it.

Profits will be be split evenly between, not the four NRL clubs involved but all 16 teams, with small prizemoney for the competing sides.

But here’s the rub, here’s how the Aussies are going to tell the Super League teams to “suck eggs”, as they say in the vernacular. The NRL teams will INSIST Super League clubs do the same, equally dividing the profits with all 14 franchises and not just divvying it up amongst themselves.

So, even though Wigan, Leeds and St Helens can safely be assumed to be three of the four Super League sides in the WCC between now and the apocalypse, they will have to give their cash to Wakefield, Castleford and the rest if they want the expanded competition to happen at all.

Personally, I like the idea. I’m sure Neil Hudgell does too.

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FOR years we’ve been reading about how the international game was going to start paying its way by selling its own TV rights.

Gates and television money from big selling Tests involving Australia, England and New Zealand would be levied with the money going directly into the coffers of our developing nations. This concept has been around for almost a decade now – before the 2008 World Cup Colin Love said it was about to be a reality.

But here we are in 2012 and the National Rugby League is selling its television rights for next year – and still including Test matches.

When we look at what could be achieved for the game globally in these TV rights talks, there are plenty of reasons for disappointment already – and nothing is even signed.

There is no sign that the representative weekend which currently includes the Anzac Test will be co-ordinated with the RFL to allow other countries to play internationals.

In fact, the Commission seems uninterested in encouraging any international activity that doesn’t involve Australia and New Zealand, nor encouraging broadcasters to take other internationals as part of packages.

The other day on radio, former Queensland and Australia back rower Billy Moore put forward a rather radical proposal to stop the drain of players from countries other than Australia to Origin.

Moore, if you’ll remember, is famous for the “Queenslander” call that we hear in Origin to this day – but he believes Test football should be at the top of the tree and argues if natural forces are allowed to take their course, this will happen naturally given the domination of Polynesians in the NRL.

He said that in a system akin to carbon emissions trading, money from Origin should be funnelled into the international game. NRL players who represent a country other than Australia should be given the same match payments as Origin stars – who currently get $20,000 per game.

Not even this column would dare suggest something so radical – but good on Billy for doing so.

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CITY-Country retained! Origin stays on Wednesday! These were the headlines after the Independent Commission met in Melbourne after Origin I.

There was information about the sports scientist who addressed the IC regarding recovery time for elite athletes and the suggestion that in future, Friday night NRL games would not feature teams with heavy Origin workloads.

Then, in small print, somewhere near the bottom of these breathless reports, was the news the Anzac Test would be retained as well.

Big news in New Zealand. Big news here. Of very little significance to most Australians, it would appear, however.

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BONDI Beat can provide you with a bit more information about the upcoming game between the United States and the Melbourne Storm.

It’s been moved from New York to Philadelphia’s PPL Park, home of the Philadelphia Union soccer team, and will be played on October 20.

It’s an 18,500-seater on the waterfront, 15 minutes from Philadelphia downtown. A national collegiate sevens rugby union tournament was due to be played there in June.

The Storm are due to arrive in the Philly area on the previous Wednesday and disperse on Monday to find their own ways home after holidaying.

The game was moved from October 13 due to a clash with the trans-Tasman Test, which will now be played at Townsville’s Dairy Farmers Stadium.

The US will then embark on a European tour which will include their first-ever Test against France.

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AS you’ll be aware, James Graham got himself in trouble for putting too much Vaseline on his legs in an apparently deliberate ploy to make the ball slippery.

There was much tsk-tsking – although I am not sure exactly how the NRL defined “too much” Vaseline in its missive to Canterbury.

Meanwhile, however, very little was said when South Sydney’s Dave Taylor feigned an injury with the help of a trainer as part of a set move from a scrum. Apparently it was only wrong because the trainer got involved.

Is it just me or has the world gone completely mad when faking an injury is OK but too much lube is a capital offence?

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