By STEVE MASCORD
“YOU’RE always writing about ‘the game’,” my esteemed colleague Roy Masters said to me one day at the Sydney Morning Herald’s Sussex Street, Sydney, offices some time in the 1990s.
By STEVE MASCORD
“YOU’RE always writing about ‘the game’,” my esteemed colleague Roy Masters said to me one day at the Sydney Morning Herald’s Sussex Street, Sydney, offices some time in the 1990s.
IT’S a rather strange dichotomy: players in Australia have never been better paid yet nor have they ever been more militant.
Maybe Bruce can change their name to the St George Illawarra Steelers?
By STEVE MASCORD
ONE day, the Jarryd Hayne story will be held up as one of the great sagas of Pacific Immigration, a touchstone for all Melanesian people.
Manoa Thompson, the father of the San Francisco 49ers recruit who you cannot escape hearing about every day (no matter how hard you try) in Australia, was born in Fiji.
In a recent interview, the former Warrington centre recalled how he raised in idyllic conditions, playing barefoot on rough fields without a care in the world.
‘But I had an auntie in Sydney who couldn’t have kids – so my parents sent me here when I was 11,” Thompson told Rugby League Week magazine.
“I lived with my auntie as her son and she eventually adopted me.
“Luckily I played a little footy while I was in Fiji and got straight into it when I arrived, which helped me make friends and adapt.”
You can already see the sprawling movie shots of rough Fijian jungle and the poor south-western suburbs of Sydney, of broken noses and cold nights at training before Manoa had a child when he was barely a man himself.
“Looking back, I wasn’t as professional as I should have been,” Manoa, who made his name at South Sydney, continued.
“I cut corners and didn’t look after my injuries well enough. I didn’t push myself to the max at training. I didn’t enjoy it.
“Those are the lessons I learned and I can’t change the mistakes I made in my career but I tried to pass on those lessons to my son Jarryd when he was young and I think he got the message.”
Thompson played for the Auckland Warriors on their momentous opening night against Brisbane in 1995, before – in his words – being “shipped off” for an ill-fated stint with Warrington. He finished in reserve grade with Penrith and had two stints in France, one with Carcassonne.
Meanwhile, young Jarryd was growing up in Minto, south-western Sydney, mostly without his semi-famous dad.
“I was only 20 when he was born and it was hard – I was playing at Souths and working and he was living with his mum,” said Thompson.
“I didn’t get to see as much of him as I would have liked but we have become very close over the years.”
Jarryd’s journey has obviously already eclipsed even the colourful adventures of his dad. From smashing Darren Lockyer while played for Fiji (Thompson also played for the Bati, against the 1996 Lions) to being shot at in Kings Cross, it’s going to make a helluva second half for that movie.
In trying to figure out what it means, the migration from Fiji to Australia and onto the US over the course of two generations can be seen as a metaphor for the changing face – and increasing globalisation – of professional sports.
Or, as always, it’s the other way around. Sport is a metaphor for life, and for the trends in wider society.
A generation ago, a young Fijian played rugby union for nothing and grew old in Fiji. Manoa Thompson had the opportunity to move to Australia at a time when most islanders didn’t migrate further than Auckland.
Jarryd, in turn, saw an opportunity that his father could never have dreamed of, and took it – in much the same way kids in all walks of life are doing just that now. It might just mean being the first person in the family to study at university or live overseas.
Or it might mean earning millions of dollars as an NFL star.
With each passing year, our horizons in the west get broader and geographical boundaries come down (as these from war-torn and poverty-stricken countries aspire in greater numbers than ever to emulate us, and risk their lives to do so).
Enough of the philosophy, right? What does I mean for rugby league?
The only reason our rugby league players live in Widnes and Campbelltown and Mount Eden and settle for whatever money we pay them is because their skills are not transferable. Rugby league is a specific game with specific attributes and specific historical, geographic boundaries.
In this way, rugby league exists within its own false economy. Regardless of how commercially successful or otherwise the sport is in its various cities and towns, it does not have to pay players the same as a soccer club or a rugby union governing body or … an NFL teams.
That’s because the vast majority of rugby league’s workforce does not have to the option of playing those sports.
But Hayne, Sonny Bill Williams, Sam Burgess and Brad Thorn do not want to be restricted by this quasi-monopoly. They have worked hard at adjusting their skills so they may enter the more lucrative, wider labour market for athletes.
When assessing the impact of this trend on rugby league, we need to look at it from the point of view of athletes and from the point of view of fans and the general popularity of the game.
From a playing point of view, it is fair to say more players will look to follow in the footsteps of those above and adapt their skill sets in order to earn more money.
This is where the parallels with economic migration are apt. Economic migrants moving from countries like Fiji to somewhere like Australia will do more menial jobs in the hopes of working their way up the food chain.
Jarryd Hayne was willing to walk out on a sport in which, it could have been argued, he was best in the world – forgoing guaranteed financial rewards – to climb up the sporting food chain. Broadly speaking, over the course of the last 50 years, social and economic boundaries have been coming down for a large chunk of humanity; Thompson and Hayne how quicky this process has accelerated.
But if we accept the NFL is above rugby league in the food chain, what does that mean for our game?
I would submit that depends very much on the vision and courage of our administrators.
Let’s imagine the global popular culture is like the global, homogenised English that everyone speaks now. Local dialects and slang, you may have noticed, are disappearing. When I first traveled abroad in 1990, there were many things I said that locals did not understand, and vice versa.
Now … not so much.
Let’s say 45 per cent of this global English comes from the UK and 40 per cent from the US, with the rest contributed by Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc. “No worries” is one of Australia’s very few contributions to global English.
Now let’s imagine pop culture the same way, with the US contributing 65 per cent, say, and the rest of the world throwing in the rest. Global is all that matters, since local customs and tastes are being eroded by technology at an alarming rate
I beleve rugby league can buy itself a seat at a giant room full of seats and tables if it tries. As a curiousity, perhaps. As a niche sport for people who sit up all night and watch whatever is only Channel 57. As global sport’s answer to “no worries”.
But that’s a small piece of a gargantuan pie, a piece that would propel the sport far beyond where it is now.
Put another way, the river channels that flow into the soup of the world sports market are much wider from Los Angeles, London and New York than they are from Wigan and Brisbane. And the flow goes both ways – so the force of what’s coming from those cultural hubs pushes back into our tiny ponds.
If we don’t stop fighting amongst ourselves, putting club football ahead of internationals and sticking our hands out for as much TV money we can get from the governing body, instead of allowing them to pump our product back, we will eventually be swamped by globalisation.
We have to make sure we focus on that central reservoir and accept that soon there will be nothing truly local – even the sport we once used to define where we are from. That’s if we don’t want more kids from Fiji who merely see Parramatta as a step along the road to San Francisco.
The mythology of the US, of Twickenham, of the All Black jersey … they are as powerful as the cash one can earn by chasing them
As Jarryd Hayne’s dad said in the interview: “His little brother Julian cried when Jarryd said he was going to the USA.
“But then I said to him ‘Don’t worry – we will go and watch him play and go to go to Disneyland too.
“And then he was OK.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD
PLAY LEAGUE, SEE THE WORLD
TOP players would be hired as ambassadors and sent to promote the game around the world as part of one proposal if the new Rugby League International Federation office is based in Sydney. In a move which could address the loss of stars to rival codes, the scheme would provide legitimate additional earnings for elite players and also match the opportunities for travel offered by other sports, Set Of Six has learned. The scheme would be financed by assembling a portfolio of current NRL sponsors who are headquartered overseas and interested in broadening their involvement in the code. But at the moment it seems likely the RLIF will be based on the northern hemisphere and minimise its engagement with the NRL and NRL players, with its first fulltime CEO to have had no history in the game. In that case, the ambassador scheme would not get past first base.
THANKS to the Junior Kangaroos and Junior Kiwis for reminding us all about one of the perennial yarns of the Four Nations and Tri-Nations – the haka. Remember Willie Mason and David Kidwell? The young Aussies linked arms and advanced on the haka at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday before the junior international, actually touching heads in some cases – pretty remarkable scenes. Some of the forehead-lunges may have brought a penalty or worse after kick-off and the match officials got between the players as things got testy. Could we see Tim Sheens’ men do something similar at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday? And we are already salivating at the prospect of pre-match formalities when the Kiwis take on the Samoans at Whangerei.
NO MORE AWARD DRAMA
ORGANISERS of the RLIF player of the year award have sidestepped the controversy surrounding Ben Hunt and Daly Cherry Evans at the Dally Ms by doing away with positional award voting. Manly’s Cherry-Evans made the Dally M NRL team of the year at halfback even though Brisbane’s Hunt polled more votes. The RLIF Award will be presented at a Brisbane luncheon on Thursday. Instead of judges being asked to vote for players in each position, they were simply given a shortlist and asked to provide a three-two-one on their top three candidates. Sonny Bill Williams got the gong in 2013; there must be a fair chance it will go to another departing star in 2014 with Sam Burgess and Jarryd Hayne among a group of nominees that also include Greg Inglis, James Graham and Johnathan Thurston. Teams for the double-header on Saturday will be named on Tuesday – tournament rules stipulate starting sides must be announced, not just squads as at the World Cup.
PHANTOM SIREN GOES GLOBAL
JARRYD Hayne isn’t the only NRL institution thinking global at the weekend. The Phantom Siren made his international debut when Fiji played Lebanon at Remondis Stadium on Sunday, doing his thing as Fiji made a break while ahead 22-12 a few seconds from halftime. “It’s one of the drummers,” radio sideline eye Daniel Pettigrew reported, in reference to the musicians on the Lebanon bench. Fiji didn’t flinch but also didn’t score before the proper bell rang out. By fulltime, they had run out 40-28 victors in the Hayne-Mannah Cup. “On behalf of all the Fijian-Australian boys, we wish Jarryd luck overseas,” Bati captain Wes Naiqama told a crowd of around 1000 as he accepted the trophy, the name of which seems unlikely to be affected by the Parramatta star’s flirtations with the NFL.
FARAH EYES CEDARS SEND-OFF
ROBBIE Farah is eying a 2017 World Cup send-off – by representing Lebanon alongside new Australia team-mate Josh Mansour. Under new World Cup qualification rules, Africa and the Middle East are guaranteed one spot in the tournament, to be held in Australia, New Zealand and possibly Papua New Guinea. That makes the Cedars odds-on to qualify after missing the last two tournaments by the barest of margins. “Hopefully one day I can get back there and help them out,” Farah told Set Of Six. “The World Cup in 2017 … I’ll be 33 so I’m not sure if I’ll still be picked by Australia or not. The Commission would be very happy if Lebanon qualifies, in terms of the crowd they will generate. I think they’ll get there this time and if we do, we’ll have a pretty good side – myself, Tim Mannah, the Robinson brothers (Reece and Travis), Mitchell Moses and Josh Mansour who is here with me.”
INTERNATIONAL MEN OF HISTORY
ONCE upon a time, you could comfortably make it to every rugby league international played in a given year. Now, it’s difficult to even keep up with the scores. Aside from events at Remondis Stadium on Sunday, Latin America beat Portugal 40-6 at Woolhara and in Lae, PNG beat Tonga 32-18/ Earlier in the weekend, the Junior Kiwis edged out the Junior Kangaroos 15-14 in Auckland, Ireland upset France 22-12 in Dublin, Greece beat Bosnia-Herzigovina 58-4 and Serbia flogged Hungary 50-0, both in Belgrade, while Scotland returned to happy hunting grounds in Workington to outclass Wales 44-18. The games in Serbia were part of a new competition, the Balkans Cup.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
IN the middle of this interview, Jarryd Hayne’s answers get shorter. It seems like he’s had enough.
Your correspondent has to spell it out: ‘this story has to run to about 1500 words, that’s why I’m asking lots of questions’. There’s a brief nod, and the answers get longer again.
It’s a neat encapsulation of what some people say makes the 21-year-old Parramatta flier tick. There’s a story they tell around South Sydney, about how Hayne’s father Manoa Thompson was worried he would sleep through his alarm and miss a early training session at Redfern.
So he drove to the oval the night before, pulled up in the carpark – and went to sleep there, knowing someone would wake him up as they walked past his car. An apocryphal story, perhaps, but like father, like son. Jarryd Hayne marches to the beat of his own drum and the route he takes to success on the football field is rarely the conventional one.
But he doesn’t leave success waiting. The two of them, Hayne and success, almost always meet at the appointed place and time and get on famously. In fact, Hayne’s best friend in most teams is success.
A-List won’t bore you with stories of pet dogs, banter with team-mates, shopping malls and nearby AFL stars this week. We got Hayne at a NSW media opportunity – a bit before most of the fourth estate descended – and the details make for tedious reading.
The Fiji fullback is sat in one of those cubbyholes they have in the home dressingrooms at Sydney Football Stadium, wearing regulation NSW training gear, and talked into a digital voice recorder.
So after experimenting with Rolling Stone-style profiles and sub-headings, this week we’ll utilise another old journalistic favourite – the Q&A:
A-List: You’ve come into Origin camp on the back of Parramatta’s 23-6 loss to Wests Tigers. How do you reflect on that game?
Hayne: “We were a bit rusty, I was a bit rusty myself. It was probably our worst performance all year so I was a bit disappointed but I had a bit of a virus, a stomach bug at the end of the week and that didn’t help. I got it on Friday. We trained pretty late and then we had a sauna session after. We were out in the cold, when I was pretty sweaty. Then Saturday, Sunday I was a bit rusty and I wasn’t sure if I was going to play or not.’’
A-List: How would you sum up the year at Parra? And also your own year?
Hayne: “It’s been tough. It wouldn’t help any club to go through what we’ve been through. To not be coming last is a pretty good effort. To lose our halfback, to lose Feleti (Mateo). To lose one halfback, get a good combination going, and the lose another from the halves combination … it was very tough, it’s really taken it’s toll on the team. The state we’re in now, we’ve pretty much got to play our best every week to be competitive.’’
A-List: You’ve had a new coach coming in and changing things over the summer, there’s blokes off contract who do don’t know what they’re doing next year. Does that have an impact out on the field?
Hayne: “Yeah, it’s tough – especially when you’ve got guys who have been here for a while and they’re not sure if they’re going to be there next year or not. That’s what the coach is there to do. He wants players that he wants there. At the end of the day, it is what it is. There’s always fors and against. Obviously I’m going to lose some mates over the summer because they’re going to move on. I think he’s bought really well with (Shane) Shackleton and (Justin) Poore. I don’t know if he’s looking for anyone else….’’
A-List: You’re probably playing the best footy of your career right now. Is that how you thought 2009 would pan out? How would you describe the year for you personally and what’s changed?
Hayne: “I don’t know, just attitude. I’ve taken it upon myself to do a bit more and I’m a bit more confident in the team and I’m sort of take a bit more control of the team.’’
A-List: And being fullback must be a big boost to you as well…
Hayne: “Yeah, I’m rapt, I’m loving it. I hope to stay there, yeah.’’
A-List: For people why have never done it, tell us what it’s like to run out in an Origin game. What was it like running down that tunnel for the first time? Did anything surprise you?
Hayne: “Yeah, (it’s great) just being able to do it. You know it’s going to be fast, you know it’s going to be intense. Just being out there and in the moment, it’s good, it’s an awesome buzz. It’s one of the best feelings you can get, running out in the Blues jersey. You’re playing against the best players. The main thing is that everyone’s on the same level. From the intensity in training to just the little things, you don’t see the same things at club level you see at Origin level.’’
A-List: Are you more worried about making a mistake in Origin than you are in club football?
Hayne: “Oh, 100 per cent. It’s Origin footy. You can’t make mistakes, pretty much. A mistake, it takes something little to change a game.’’
A-List: But you are a creative player, you take risks. Does that affect your mindset going into an Origin game, if you are more worried about making a mistake?
Hayne: “No, not really.”
A-List: But in your first year of Origin, you tapped the ball infield and Queensland scored. How hard is it not to dwell on things like that?
Hayne: “Not that pass. I thought I was doing good for the team. I thought it was a 40-20, they’d scored two tries, we were on the back foot and I knew when it went out it really would have rattled us. It wasn’t like I was trying to do a magic play or I was trying to do something arsey or silly. That’s not why I did it.‘’
A-List: Everyone else is talking about four series in a row for Queensland. Are you fellas thinking about it a lot?
Hayne: “Yeah, of course. We don’t want want to play in the team that has been beaten four series in a row so it’s a major factor. I think the team we have now should be up for the task.’’
A-List: Tell us about how the side lifted in Melbourne after a poor period in the first half?
Hayne: “I think we were playing like that the whole game but sort of just weren’t getting the lucky chances we were getting in the second half. ‘’
A-List: Have you watched your no-try back on many occasions since then?
A-List: And what are your thoughts when you watch it back?
Hayne: “What everyone else says. It’s a try.’’
A-List: What can we do to prevent those sort of mistakes happening again.
Hayne: “If there’s a touch judge there, what’s the point of going to the video ref? He didn’t put his flag up. So if he doesn’t put his flag up, why are we going to the video ref, you know what I mean?’’
A-List: So they should show more faith in the officials on the field?
A-List: You’ve played just one Test for Australia. At the end of the year there’s a Four Nations and a Pacific Cup? Would you like to play for Fiji again?
Hayne: “No, I think I’ll just stay with Australia this year. The World Cup was something special but I think you can only change a certain number of times in a certain amount of years. I’ll probably stick with Australia and if I don’t get selected I’ll go on a bit of a holiday.’’
A-List: When you say your attitude is different this year, what do you mean?
Hayne: “Before, I used to eat rubbish the day before the game. Now I’m eating right seven days a week and looking after my body a bit more, not going out as much. Just a bit more focus on footy. When I first came into first grade I was a bit young and got a bit sidetracked with the partying.’’
A-List: Was there a single thing that changed your outlook?
Hayne: “Just the World Cup. I really appreciate what I have and how many people wish they were in my shoes so that’s something that really drove me. Seeing the Fijian boys, how proud they were just to play for Fiji. To see them, puting the effort in and the enthusiasm they had really made me feel I should be doing more for myself.’’
A-List: And I suppose you were thrust into a leadership role there whether you wanted one or not.
Hayne: “I think that really helped me because I brought it back to Parra. The thinks I was doing in the Fijian team I was puting it upon myself to do with Parra. It’s obviously affected me in Parra as well.’’
A-List: And before that, you just considered yourself another footy player?
Hayne: “Oh, being young you don’t really want to be really stepping up and taking charge of a team. You had a whole lot of people there who had been around for a while and you just sit back and let them do their thing and you just finish it off at the end of it – which in ’06 I did. We had good halves and a good centre in Luke o’Dwyer who just looked after me. They all sort of left so I had to step up.
A-List: You will forever be known as the man who was shot at in Kings Cross. Is it still fun being a footy player or has scrutiny made it just a business?
Hayne: “Of course. I wouldn’t swap it for the world. It’s just a bit different now compared with back in the day, what the older players used to get away with. It’s a bit hard when you hear all these stories about what they used to get up to. Now, it’s like if you do anything near that you pretty much wouldn’t have a contract. It’s tough. It’s a new generation, a time when things are changing. We’ve just got to get used to it.’’
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Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
DESPITE the complications alcohol and social media have each caused him, NSW and St George Illawarra fullback Josh Dugan still seems to really like both. After reports emerged on Sunday that police were called after he was seen sitting in a boat parked outside a Sutherland Shire house and rowdily pretending to fish, Dugan posted on Instagram a meme (which now means a picture with a slogan superimposed on it) that read “A Lion Doesn’t Concern Himself With The Opinions Of Sheep” following by the hashtag #anythingtosellastory . Within a few hours, the posting had more than 1000 likes. Most respondents, predictably, agreed with Dugan and criticised the story but some pleaded with him to, in the words of one follower, “pull your head in”.
RICKY’S LOST DANIELS NUMBER
RICKY Stuart deftly walked the line between getting his message across and not questioning anyone’s integrity with his post-match comments after the South Sydney loss. The Parramatta coach has said before that he doesn’t speak to referees boss Daniel Anderson and did not repeat his earlier contention that referees treat sides down the bottom of the table are treated differently than those at the top. That accusation carries an implication of prejudice and will make you $10,000 poorer in an instant. And while that was still the clear hint on Sunday, the majority of players in the NRL agree anyway. In the Rugby League Week Player Poll, when asked “do lesser clubs cop a rough deal from refs?”, 54 per cent of respondents answered ‘yes’. The NRL recently beefed up its rules to take in criticism which is considered excessive, even if no integrity is questioned. In the view of Joy Of Six, this is blatant censorship.
OUT WITH INNUENDO
THE speculation on Thursday and Friday that Sonny Bill Williams was about to pull out of the Sydney Roosters-Canterbury match because he did not want to put money in his former club’s coffers did no-one any favours. Sure, the fact that Williams played should have put the innuendo to bed but in truth a professional sports should not have to endure the whispering in the first place. In the NFL, all clubs have to maintain an injury list outlining who trained, who didn’t and why – which is available to the public. And betting on American football in most US states is illegal. Hiding or lying about injuries is punishable by Draconian fines. Rugby league may have scaled back its involvement with bookmakers but it arguably owes the public more transparency than the NFL because it still benefits from punting. When the Integrity Unit is done with misbehaving players, it should get to work on making clubs completely transparent over injuries and team changes.
DUGAN UNCHAINED, PART 58
ANOTHER job for the Integrity Unit, then. People still seem angry at Josh Dugan, even though he apparently did nothing wrong on his night out with Blake Ferguson and fishing on dry land is not – at this stage – a crime in NSW. It is central to their disquiet that Dugan did “the wrong thing” in Canberra and was “rewarded” with a St George Illawarra contract, and then “rewarded” again with NSW selection. That being the case, surely Jim Doyle’s Integrity Unit should assess each case where a player is sacked for disciplinary reasons and make a ruling on whether he should be able to join a rival club immediately, after a set period or at all. There’s no integrity in deliberately getting yourself sacked by not showing up to work, and then joining a rival employer after a few weeks’ purgatory. The NRL should be involved.
THE GAME THEY PLAY ON SEVEN
CHANNEL Seven’s signing of an agreement to cover the World Cup is tremendous news and follows a similar deal in the UK, where regular league broadcaster Sky Sports lost out to upstart Premier Sports in rights negotiations. While International Management Group, who negotiated both deals, are motivated by profit and not the welfare of the sport, rugby league has often lacked the confidence to share TV broadcasting rights around. International Rugby League is essential for the sport to go to the next level commercially and in the case of the broadcasters we already have, familiarity has bred contempt. You could argue it is in the interests of our domestic broadcasters for rugby league to remain a local, affordable commodity. They don’t care about international football and in that circumstance, we can either dance to their tune or go out and find someone who does care. Thankfully, we’ve done the latter. It could be a milestone decision.
WARRIOR TO … WARRIOR
THE negligible space afforded to Sam Tomkins’ likely signing with the New Zealand Warriors (from Wigan Warriors) in the Australian press is a sad indictment on the perceived strength of Super League. Tomkins is a once-in-a-generation English rugby league player whose evasive skills on kick returns have to be seen to be believed. While Australians decry the denuding of Super League, most English fans have never had illusions of grandeur about their competition. England coach Steve McNamara, speaking to Set Of Six in the South Sydney dressingrooms late on Sunday, spoke for many of them when he said fans would far rather see Tomkins stay in rugby league on the other side of the world than defect to rugby union at home. “It’s almost like the lesser of two evils, if you get my meaning,” McNamara said. Compare that to Australian fans, who view Super League and rugby union more or less equally as predators. Some of them would prefer a league player represent the Wallabies than Wigan, no doubt – a position that would be considered utter treason in the north of England.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD