The NRL’s 12 Best Characters

Kevin Gordon instagram

Kevin Gordon instagram

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.
Today? Meh.
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
Gordon, Kevin 2RUMOUR 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.
Brisbane - Sam ThaidayREADERS 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?
Klemmer, David3IT’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.
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.”


James Maloney/wikipedia

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.
George Rose/wikipedia
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.”
Criticised ... 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.”
Canterbury - Josh ReynoldsHERE’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.
South Sydney - Issac LukeTHESE 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.
Aaron Woods/ 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.
Newcastle - Willie MasonSPEND 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.”
Nate Myles/wikipedia
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.


THE JOY OF SIX: Round 25

QUESTIONS prompted by the emergence of a photo of a woman who claimed to have been punched by Ben Barba: How was this not a cover-up, given that the highest profile NRL player at the time was suspended by his club and we weren’t told why? If this allegation was related to domestic violence, was the alleged victim protecting her own income by not reporting it to police? If Barba’s own mental state was the reason for keeping it quiet, and if he did not complete his counselling, why was he allowed to return to the field? How can the NRL employ in a senior position an official who presided over such a cover-up? How can a club which suspended its star player over an alleged assault on a woman promote the Women In League Round? Next time a player is stood down for “personal issues”, should we just assume that they are lying when they say there was no underlying incident?

IS there a worse gig in rugby league than that of caretaker coach? You can be rated as the next big thing but if your boss happens to get sacked and you have to fill in for him for a few weeks, chances are your career will be set back half a decade. Think Steve Georgallis, Brad Arthur, Ian Millward … and Andrew Dunemann. Dunemann’s added headache is that his a contender for the North Queensland job. The Raiders being beaten on his watch won’t help – but he could hardly say no, could he? “We’re happy with Duners,” said hat-trick centre Jarrod Croker. “We want to play for Duners. I know it didn’t look like it but we are busting our backsides for him and we wanted to come out and prove a point.” The Raiders learned of team-mate Sandor Earl’s drugs infraction notice when they touched down in Auckland on Thursday.

MATTHEW Elliott says it took him a long while to get over his departure from the Canberra Raiders and has sympathy for their current plight. On the same weekend when Wayne Bennett saw fit to discuss Brisbane’s proud finals record after they missed out on the play-offs for the second time in 21 years, Elliott said: “I’ve really got massive fondness for the Raiders. They gave me my first opportunity and I love the club. I’m very confident that they’ll get back on track. I didn’t always see eye-to-eye with the administrators but I know how much they care and I know how keen they are to help that team do well. Man, they’ve got some real talent. I know we’re talking about players who are leaving but I watched their under 20s game and they’ve got some good players coming through.”

‘X-FACTOR’ has become one of rugby league’s abiding clichés and while it annoys many, Gold Coast winger-cum-fullback Kevin Gordon has embraced it. Using Instagram’s new video feature, he recently mocked up a “segment” in which he was a contestant on the TV show of that name. “I’m into X-Factor this year, I’ve been watching it,’ said the Filipino international. “So I put myself in it, singing my song “get it to Gordon”. I filmed the judges (from the TV) and filmed myself, then filmed the judges and edited it together so it looked like I’m talking to the judges and the judges are talking to me.” Gordon did a variation on Michael Jackson’s one-glove routine when he played in yesterday’s win over Sydney Roosters with one shoe, because James Maloney threw one of his boots into the bay at the southern end of the ground. “Lucky I had it back. I don’t know how I would have gone off my right foot,” he said.

NEW Zealand coach Stephen Kearney, speaking on Triple M on Friday night, said he still didn’t know whether Sonny Bill Williams was available for the World Cup but may have given a hint of the Sydney Rooster’s intentions by saying SBW “has a title to defend”. That’s a reference to the New Zealand heavyweight boxing title. Those who expect Williams to box instead of going to RLWC2013 expect him to aim higher than that. At the very least, it indicates the NZ title has been raised as an issue with Kearney. The Kiwis have an extended 38-man squad with which they communicate over training camps and travel arrangements. SBW and Benji Marshall remain part of that group.  Kearney admits he is willing to give Williams as long as it takes to make a call.

A SHOULDER charge is not a shoulder charge if you wrap your arms around your opponent – and the same seems to go for aggressive use of the head. Queensland and Gold Coast forward Nate Myles said nothing when he was criticised by NSW players for leading with his head in Origin but had plenty to say when he was struck Sunday in the melon by Sydney Rooster Sam Moa. He suffered a suspected syndesmosis of the ankle as he fell, likely ending his season. Before Moa was placed on report for a shoulder charge (the head seemed to be the initial of contact), Myles used so many expletives as he stumbled around that referee Dave Munro advised colleague Matt Cecchin to caution him. Taking pity on the badly-injured international, Cecchin let it slide.


New Trainer Titans Up The Gold Coast

Gold Coast - Dan FerrisBy STEVE MASCORD

GOLD Coast stars have credited new head trainer Dan Ferris for their blazing start to the season.

The Titans have already gone some way towards burying the memory of last year’s disappointments with a 2-1 opening to 2013, with the prized scalp of Manly their latest.

“We had a new trainer, Dan Ferris, and it was a lot different to what we had over the last few years,” said winger Kevin Gordon.

“A lot of the boys had fun … it was a good pre-season. I think that’s what helped us. Everyone’s feeling fit and strong.

“Obviously it’s paid off.

“Most of us had our own training – like wingers had their training, forwards, they’d be different. It was more specific training. It helped us in our area of expertise.

“It’s paying dividends now. The pre-season’s been good. He’s done good, Dan Ferris

“Me personally, because I got an arthroscope back in October, I feel a lot better because it’s been cleaned up and  I’m able to do leg weights now. I feel, personally, stronger, quicker.”

Meanwhile, the Titans other winger David Mead has shrugged off compliments for his quick thinking in rendering dead a Daly Cherry-Evans dropout in the 76th minute on Saturday, giving team-mate Aiden Sezer a penalty goal in front to win the game.

“I saw it was going to go out so I tried to put a foot out and luckily it went out,” the PNG international said. “I’m glad that happened and we got two points.

“That’s the first time (I’ve done that).

“It’s more instinct. Every player knows. The sideline’s there, you’ve got one foot out and you touch the ball or catch it, it’s a penalty so I think anyone would have done that.”


“Rugby Is Not Something You Sniff”


“LOOK at him – he’s barely said ‘boo’ the whole tour and now he’s got a big smile on his face and you can’t shut him up.”

A member of the Philippines team management is pointing at Sam Bernstrom, Sydney Roosters’ 198cm back rower. We are at the Nayon ng Kabataan Welfareville Compound – a Manila orphanage – on a scorching Wednesday afternoon.

Bernstrom is directing kids, hauled in off the streets by welfare officers, in passing drills. Soon, he will be buried under a pile of young boys so big that he looks like he’s genuinely concerned. Then he’ll put one tiny tot on his shoulders and they will wade through a group playing basketball and execute a cheeky slam dunk.

Three days before, the Philippines rugby league team – made up almost entirely of Australian-based players with a couple of Aussies playing rugby union in Asia thrown in for good measure – had brought our game to Asia for the first time with a 86-0 flogging of Thailand at Bangkok’s Royal Thai Police Stadium.

The crowd had been only about 150 – with any lasting benefit of the fixture in Thailand down to the local rugby union players who copped a pasting but who must now be relied upon to spread the word in the popular holiday destination.

For the Philippines boys, the real mission lay in a two hour plane ride the next day – to a place that in most cases one of their parents had come from but to which many of them had never been. Even if not one person in Manila, population 10,444,000, picks up rugby league as a result of their visit, the benefits to the young men in the touring party (who mostly funded the trip themselves) will be incalculable.

They are told about a garbage tip where fossickers dig out rancid food scraps and cook and sell them. Sitting in cabs going to the casino at Resort City each night, they see towering commercial buildings give way to abject poverty. They drink coke from plastic bags so the shops can keep the bottles and claim the refund.

Sam Berstrom buried under a pile of orphans - and looking worried

Sam Berstrom buried under a pile of orphans – and looking worried

But today, at the orphanage, is the most dumbfoundingly moving experience. The superintendent, Kumi Kobayashi, is a cousin of Gold Coast Titans hooker Matt Srama – who went straight home from Bangkok – and his brother Luke, who plays for Coventry Bears in the Conference League.

When she explained to about 40 orphans that the men in front of them did not represent “the rugby you know”, she wasn’t referring to the 15-man game. “Rugby is a drug that they sniff,” she tells me. “It’s like a glue. It’s unfortunately very popular on the streets. We have to explain to them that these boys have nothing to do with that. ”

The orphans here were either abused or abandoned. They are street kids, picked up by social security services and brought here. “We try to get them training to get a job, and at 17 they go back out there,” says Kobayashi.

The children were presented with Philippines Tamaraws (dwarf buffaloes, the mascot of the team) t-shirts and tiny stuffed koalas. They are not unusued to being visited by sports stars, as it turns out.

“We had David Beckham here late last year,” she said “There was him and about 12 members of his entourage. There was a five-minute photo opportunity and he did pose with the (orphanage) soccer team but then he was gone.

“Some of the kids were disappointed. They wanted his autograph but you couldn’t get near him.

“When Matt (Srama) came the next month, he stayed until every kid had his photo taken with him or he signed something. Today, with all these boys here, the kids will remember for a long time.”

Another Titans star, Kevin Gordon, finished the visit by dancing for the kids while his part-time DJ brother, Dennis, spun some tunes on the tannoy. Later, Kevin got an early start to pre-season training by pushing a food cart up a gravelly road outside the orphanage.

If rugby league does make an impression in Asia, those who support it can expect a wealth of new sights, sounds, smells and experiences.

Has a referee ever been serenaded (in this case, with Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’) by a national team after an international, as was Kasey Badger in Bangkok? Badger’s part in the first husband and wife refereeing team in the history of world sport was, of course, featured in the Observer (costing this writer a fortune in overseas roaming phone calls and leaving him cursing the thoroughness of Andy Wilson).

Aussie Andrew Charles did an unbelievable job origanising the game in Bangkok, attracting sponsors. Next year, it is hoped there’ll be a four-team domestic competition in Thailand with a sports bar in the holiday town of Pattaya particularly keen to get involved.

orphanage“The local rugby union, they don’t do much and they say no to a lot of ideas,” said 14-year-old Jonathan Boley, a player from an expat family, who watched the game in near-awe, said.

“With rugby league coming to Thailand, they don’t have to go through the TRU. They can do what they want to.”

Pattaya may also host a Nines tournament, with Pacific countries keen to reward those who missed out on World Cup selection by sending them to an exotic far east event, next year.

The Phillipines players, meanwhile, pressed flesh with the great and the good during their busy week in Manila, organising a nines tournament (touch rules) the Saturday after their international.

They have plans for a tri-series involving Japan and Thailand on a decomissioned airforce base around the same time next year. And there is a good chance the crowd will be bigger than 150. Kumi Kobayashi says the kids are always keen on an excursion…

Filed for: FORTY-20 MAGAZINE



‘NEXT try wins!” came the call from the Philippines side as a scrum packed near the end of the first ever rugby league international in Asia yesterday.

The scene was the Royal Thai Police Stadium, Bangkok, on a sweltering Sunday afternoon. The score? Philippines 80 Thailand 0.

In front of a crowd of family and friends, a Filipino side including Gold Coast Titans stars Matt Srama and Kevin Gordon had run in 14 tries against an opposition made up mainly of local rugby union players.

The call, from an anonymous Filipino player, was intended to motivate his team-mates to keep their brave opposition scoreless as the Thais fed the final scrum.

But there was still something more at stake.

Between them, Matt Srama and his brother Luke had scored 26 points. They were one of five sets of brothers in the side. Kevin and Dennis Gordon, had scored 22.

The scrum was won by the Thais but they couldn’t hold onto it. Both benches were told the game was over. But before the siren could sound, Titan Kevin Gordon was in the clear – as we have seen so many times in the NRL – and he ran 65 metres before converting to edge his clan ahead of his club-mates’.

“My two goals got me close to my brother, anyway” said Kevin.

Meanwhile, Matt and Luke Srama got to play together for the first time.

“First time ever – we’ve been waiting for this day for years and years and years,” said Luke, who played hooker yesterday.

“We didn’t think it would ever happen but it finally has.”

Matt: “He reminds me of myself when I’m playing hooker – really tough, gets in there, popped the ball out four or five times. He gives me tips when I go back to Gold Coast.”

This was no explosive arrival for our game in a new region – but it was an arrival nonetheless. Some things that people imagine about international development games are better in reality. Other things are probably worse.

The commitment of the players, the nerves of the coaches and staff, the intensity of the warm-ups and the talk – it’s like anything we see in the winter months in Australasia. Players from pub competitions (or not playing at all this year) run out alongside highly-paid professionals, put their bodies on the line and new friendships are forged.

On the other hand, crowds are impossible to predict and often tiny, facilities are commonly poor (‘this shed is still better than Brookvale,’ a filipino wag commented) and everyone has to pitch in when it comes to lugging equipment, marking lines, filling up drink bottles and booking training facilities.

Playing international rugby league outside the top four countries mixes the passion and emotion of the game’s highest levels with the menial, humble chores of its lowest. There is no room for prima donnas or superstars.

People say it’s a waste of time and, says Srama, “I’ve got to admit, I was probably one as well.

“But the coaching staff, the Filipino rugby league, have all done a great job and hopefully we can promote the game over there a little bit in the Philipines.

“There are a lot of juniors coming through. Now there is a benchmark out there that there’s a team. When I was a kid, I would have loved it if there was a Filipino league team.

“We’re part of the first one ever.”

Referees are also often a problem at this level – thankfully they weren’t yesterday with the world’s first husband-and-wife officiating team in any sport taking control. They featured in a large story in the UK’s Observer yesterday morning – getting almost as much space as a Wembley or Old Trafford final.

Asked about the experience of controlling a match with partner Kasey – on the occasion of their second wedding anniversary – Gavin Badger said: “I didn’t get to have a go – she just kept taking everything.

“It’s just the way she looks at me sometimes.”

read on

FAR & WIDE: Number 14


GOLD Coast winger Kevin Gordon has spoken of his excitement about representing the Philippines in Bangkok on October 20 alongside his brother Dennis.

Gordon will be joined in the Philippine team by clubmate Matt Srama and South Sydney winger Andrew Everingham.

“I was approached about seven months ago – the start of the season,” said Gordon. “There was a bloke putting together the Philippines team.

“About five days before the game, there’s going to be a little camp and we’ll have a few training sessions together.

“After that, we’re going to try to promote the Philippines team. We’re going to play in Thailand and a couple of days later we’re going to go to the Philippines.

“We’ll do some clinics, go around to schools and teach the game.”

Gordon qualifies because his mother was born in the Philippines. “She’s part Filipino, part Chinese. I’m probably a quarter Filipino.

“I’ve always wanted to do it, ever since I started playing – I thought there could be a Philippines team. Finally, someone’s stepped up and a couple more players are coming in.”

Dennis is a second rower with Queanbeyan Blues.


CONGRATULATIONS to the lads from the Serbian Rugby League for their hosting of an Under 18s festival last week.

The tournament involved three teams, with English Midlands winning the title after beating Serbia 30-0 and Lebanon 46-4. The other game resulted in a 46-4 win to Serbia over Lebanon.


MANY happy returns also to the winners of the AMNRL, New York, who beat Connecticut 60-40 a fortnight back.

The beaten Wildcats actually led 24-22 at halftime.

Meawhile, officials say the cancellation of the US v Melbourne game will not affect the Tomahawks’ clash with Queensland Indigenous in Hawaii on October 27.


THE European Federation had a meeting in London ahead of the Challenge Cup final last week, with Poland represented for the first time by our friend, US-based Australian nuclear physicist Dan Andruczyk.

Trinidad & Tobago were recently accepted as observer members of the RLEF, which seems to be overseeing development on the Caribbean.