“And do the players of this game have a more terrible record than any, going back to the age of steam, of following even the most basic social rules? Is that record so bad that it makes all promises by your leaders assuring the people that as public health depends upon it, the players really can be trusted to keep to the rules this time? And will those leaders keep saying that, despite the fact that in the week of our pronouncement three players had very publicly flouted the very rules on which our public safety depends?”
And the NRL stepped forward and said, “Yes, it is us. We meet all those descriptions. Of all the trades that have been shut down, we wish to go first. You owe it to us. And you can trust us this time.”
And the government all but said, “Very well, you shall go first.” And the people not so besotted by the game that they couldn’t think straight, turned away, scratching their brows. They thought it very odd indeed. They did not wish a pox upon the NRL house, for they had all had enough of the pox generally.
But it was a very strange stance by a government that had done so very well to this point. The woman with the babe against her breast went to the old people’s home, where there had been another outbreak, come from a single stray locust. Thirteen dead. It was a very strange time.
Black and white picture
But seriously. On the one hand, police are investigating NRL players for socialising during the lockdown. On the other hand, the NSW government is about to give the OK for NRL players to resume training and playing. What is wrong with this picture?
Women show the way
Well I never. One of the twitterati made an interesting point to TFF this week after the weekly NRL atrocities, “Interesting that it’s always men breaking and flouting rules. When is the last time you heard of an AFLW or NRLW woman breaking and flouting rules?”I checked, and he’s right! Seriously, is it not weird? When I say “bad behaviour by Australian sportswomen causing front and back page atrocity stories”, and you cast your mind back, what do you come up with? Was your first thought, too, Dawn Fraser, 1964, nicking the flag at the Tokyo Olympics? And that was no more than high jinks. I also remember, vaguely, the Olympic cyclist who got in a wee spot of bother a couple of decades ago for urinating on a cycling track, mid-race. Others recalled Stephanie Rice tweeting “Suck on that fa—ts!” to the South Africans after an Australian triumph.
But they are, I am sure you’ll agree, slim pickings when it comes to the endless examples supplied by Australian sportsmen every freaking week. No assaults, no untoward shtooping, no shocking racist abuse, no public drunkeness, no woman-handling of umpires or referees, no drug-dealing, no running off with 16-year-old schoolboys, no flouting of social isolation rules, no nuttin’! I mean, it’s no huge surprise that Australian sportswomen are better behaved than sportsmen, but it must be by a factor of 100,000 to one! I want an explanation. Have it on my desk by 9am tomorrow. I will be in my trailer.
Close call with McCaw
He played more than 300 games for the St Pats, Mosman and Shoalhaven subbies, and is as rugby as they come, from his battered knees to his rugged visage, from the way his whole body creaks when he gets up in the morning, to the grateful way he sinks to bed at night … to the way he still just LOVES the game. And yes he misses family, as his work recently took him to live in New Zealand, but the upside is – working in a tight town like Christchurch – he inevitably runs into his fair share of rugby royalty. On Wednesday night, he ran into the king himself.
“I literally bumped into Richie McCaw at the supermarket tonight,” Bob emailed to his brother Chris just after it happened. “In NZ you have to remain two metres from each person. He was a metre from me!!! Even after all these years he’s still offside …”
Bright side to gloom
As to where to from here for Australian rugby, the beat goes on. But I was bemused midweek by the response after my interview on NZ Radio, where my theme was that the way back would be a long one, and our starting point must be abandoning all idea of winning the 2023 or even 2027 World Cup, because the most important thing was to restore the game to good health, before looking for Wallaby boasting rights. I had no sooner put the phone down than Andy Haden, the great All Black second-rower, texted me. He put me in my place for downplaying Australia’s chances.
“There are only two countries who have the young players coming through as part of under 20s and junior programs and school tournaments. Two countries who will have youth and energy and depth in 2023. France is one and Australia is the other (yes England have thousands of players and more money than a bull can shit but don’t have the ‘grit’ you need!) You say not 2023 or 2027 for Australia. I say wrong, wrong, wrong. Saying that it’s an eight-year turnaround is just giving people who have to deliver easy outs. A new sponsor or maybe a new broadcaster and a couple of wins and the past decade will be consigned quickly to the past, overnight. Junior rugby in the world at the moment is headed up by young Wallabies. Anyway, put your money up. I have $100 to say Australia and/or France will be semi-finalists in 2023. (And either A$ or $NZ will do!) By the way Rennie is an outstanding coach and ideal for the Wallabies and if the mob that got rid of Castle turn their attention to Rennie now, it could well be eight years+.”
Martha, Come quick! A light! I swear I can a tiny pin-prick of light, in the Stygian gloom!
What they said
From the NRL submission as to why it should be allowed to start training again from Monday, and playing from the end of the month: “The nature of the contact during training and during the game is such that transmission from an infected individual would potentially be widespread to others in the environment.”
You’re not a real interim NRL chief until you’ve dealt with your first scandal, in this case the breaches of the social distancing rules by four NRL players, and Andrew Abdo was quick off the mark. “It is very disappointing.” Only a fortnight into the job, and he has already mastered the lingo.
Nathan Cleary with the apology: “I just want to apologise as a role model in the community, I know it’s not good enough. They’re my sister’s friends, they were drinking down the road on the street, they came by and popped in and said they were just waiting for an Uber to someone else’s house.” Seems like a nice bloke. But in light of the subsequent TikTok thing that emerged, I call bullshit.
Peter V’landys promoting the tracking app, before the trouble started: “Right from the start of this pandemic we acknowledged the important role our sport, and the role models in our game, can play in helping authorities get important messages to the public so we can beat this virus.”
NSW Origin coach Brad Fittler on the alleged crimes and misdemeanours of Josh Addo-Carr, Latrell Mitchell and Nathan Cleary: “If I was picking the team right now, definitely not. What they’ve done is not only put themselves under pressure, they’ve put their teammates under pressure, their club team, they’ve obviously put their representative jerseys under pressure and they’ve put their coaches under pressure.”
Grand slam Wallabies captain Andrew Slack, revealing his last communication with the Gang of Ten, who released their letter calling for the board and management of Rugby Australia to stand down: “I remain unsure of the wording of the letter, the timing of it and most importantly, any positive effect it might have. It is also not really the way I work in trying to get things done. So, I think it would be hypocritical of me to be a signatory.”
Slack followed up with a column in the Courier-Mail: “Also, among those who signed are some who have done absolutely zero for the code since they were the feted ones showing off their talents on the field and getting nicely recompensed for their efforts.”
Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori on what would happen if the Olympic Games were further postponed from 2021: “In that case, the Olympics will be scrapped.”
Mark Ella reminiscing in The Oz this week, about the great old days: “Michael O’Connor and his close friend, Wallaby flanker Chris Roche, were dubbed ‘Null and Void’ by their teammates because of their absent-mindedness. They had the distinction of being the only duty boys to be sacked in the history of the Australian Barbarians.”
Team of the week
Latrell Mitchell, Josh Addo-Carr, Nathan Cleary. Set a new post-war record for sporting stupidity, by not only flagrantly breaching the social distancing rules at the very time the NRL is betting the sheep-station that the game’s players can be trusted, but then allowing it all to go out on social media.
Peter V’landys. Mr Everywhere.
St Joseph’s Regional College Chess Team. Achieved first place at the Sydney Academy of Chess Competition. Bravo young men.
Anthony Lawrence. The former fast bowler is now a great poet, as witnessed in his work Bouncer, inspired by the day he opened the eyebrow of a batsman who told him “You couldn’t hit a bull’s bum with a handful of hundreds and thousands,” which is featured on the Australian Book Review’s Poetry for Troubled Times blog.
Graeme “Beatle” Watson. Former Test cricketer passed away from cancer at the age of 75. An all-rounder, Watson played five Tests and two ODIs for Australia, and was the first cricketer to represent three states: Victoria, WA and NSW.
Peter FitzSimons is a journalist and columnist with The Sydney Morning Herald.