NRL: Reactive is as Reactive does

NRL management never ceases to amaze me, and that’s unfortunate because I like being amazed … but in a positive way.

While the real NRL CEO, Cameron Smith is busy lifting trophies or talking about the Auckland 9’s (please Lord, no!) or Benny Barba, John Grant’s lunchboy has gone and forgotten to invite the game’s Immortals to the season launch. Sheesh!

I haven’t seen a more brain-dead decision since … since … since Anthony Mundine ignored 2 support players 5 metres from the line in a 3-on-1 situation in the 1999 Grand Final. I’m pretty sure 20-0 right after half-time would’ve shut the Storm out of that one, and I’m equally adamant that, while David Smith isn’t quite up there in that rarified air of decision-making, he needs to shut down the opportunities for negative press (like this blog, I suppose) and tighten the ship. Death by a thousand cuts is not a great way for the game to proceed.

I actually don’t envy David Smith’s position because he has moved into a position rife with legacy issues, and it’s clearly too difficult to buy good enough help to inform him what an Immortal is (hint: not Christopher Lambert). Lucky for him that other chap, what’s his name, Gallop, had the TV rights pretty much sealed before he was ‘proactively’ let loose to really threaten the NRL (seen the Wanderers and FC lately?) otherwise the workload would be unbearable!

Coincidentally, I’m sure the existence of these pre-existing issues is one of the reasons Todd Greenberg decided to bide his time with the Bulldogs before taking the top job (and I’m sure it’s a matter of time). The prospect of moving into a position where he has less power and influence, little scope for creativity, and the monumental headache of taking the blame for the persistent issues like player welfare and concussion that should have been dealt with years ago is nowhere near as much fun as poking yourself in the eye repeatedly with a fork. He’s smart. I’d prefer he was ARLC Chairman, but that’s another matter …

What have I done.?! Get me back to Lloyds!

What have I done.?! Get me back to Lloyds!

Given his banking history, David might have had a few knocks around the melon himself, probably by a blunt object called Libor, to the point where he’s beginning to look a little too much like Harry Potter, the Maxwell Smart of wizards. He will earn that comparison as CEO if he doesn’t get on the front foot and initiate a calculated process to deal with issues surrounding concussion. Previous administrators have not tackled this issue either, but it might have got him off to a ‘proactive’ start. Do what a new government does. Claim a massive budget black hole and start again. He can do the same, though I’m not sure he’s allowed …

In any case, there’s a very tight constraint on how proactive you can be when you don’t really understand the game, but concussion is a no-brainer.

Consider what the US has gone through on this subject – deaths and serial depressions of former professional players. Class action lawsuits have resulted, leading now to studies into youth concussion and other rigorous research that hope to put all the pieces together. It’s a shame some of those lives can’t be restored in the same way.

This is the type of research that the NRL betrays no sign of understanding. It certainly has done nothing about it publicly. It has banned the shoulder charge, but totally missed the point that head contact, in all forms, is the real issue.

I’ll be interested to see what penalties are handed out for high shots this year (guessing they are nowhere near fitting the crime, or true to the theme of caring about the effects of concussion). If the NRL is interested in results, it has to lead. It’s that simple.

Speaking of which …

The Papalii shuffle

This knocked me off my perch the other day. Josh Papalii doing the Gangnam style with a pen in each hand, it seems. How can the season be yet to start and a player has swapped allegiances? Not now, mind you, but for next year. And now it’s just another bad soap opera tug of war. Hoodathunkit? It gets earlier every year. Pretty soon they’ll announce 2yrs in advance!

It’s useful to understand that rugby league players are not like normal employees. They’re contractors. A standard rugby league contract may read as though they are employees, complete with annual leave, but they’re not. After you’ve done your time, the club either wants to keep you … or not. They also have the added responsibility of being contracted as part of a team where, in theory, the cream rises to the top when the performance of said team is greater than the sum of its parts. So this is also a team issue.

The Papalii episode is worse than the Star Wars episodes 1, 2 & 3 combined. Actually, that’s not possible. The point is, a balance needs to be struck between the interests of players, clubs and those other stakeholders whose name escapes me … oh yeah, the fans.

It’s hard to be critical of someone looking out for their future, but it does leave a sour taste for fans to see a player who may not have the incentive to be fully engaged for an entire season knowing that their future lay elsewhere, particularly if the team is losing.

Get the transfer window in place. It doesn’t have to be a free-for-all over a weekend, but refuse to register any contracts signed outside the month of July in the case of a player going to another club.

A player will get the message if his club hasn’t re-signed him by, say, May, but as long as everyone understands nothing is binding until that period, they can have their little clandestine meetings as often as they like, and leak the details if it suits. It’s not too late to interfere with semi-finals, and it’s also early enough to ward off other sports (which is an overblown fear anyway).

BowdenPrescription to NRL management: 1 Uppercut, twice daily for two weeks. If current lethargy persists, take another course. Repeat until sensible. Or concussed.

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The Lessons of the Charity Shield and Video Refs

I had 4 triple macchiatos and a handful of Stilnox last night and went to bed at the same time. It’s reminiscent of the great Steve Wright, whose apartment was burgled and the thieves stole everything and replaced them with exact duplicates …

Right, let’s make this quick before the game tonight and my Chardonnay which waits for no-one.

Brad Walter wrote an article based on the 5 things we learned from last night’s Charity Shield Game. I like his writing and I’m not going to quibble.

I will, however, add the most important things I observed.

First, Souths still lack the killer punch to put sides away. Sure, it’s the start of the season (not even), but I don’t think I’m getting ahead of myself in this observation when I see the reference out there to Souths playing finals footy already. Leading 16-0 and then pretty much going toe-to-toe in the 2nd stanza against an average Dragons outfit doesn’t auger well. They’re fit, they’re strong, but so are other teams. There are clearly some other aspects of their game to work on, and they’re not trifling.

Before Souths fan bite my head off, I want to see them do well. They have the team to blow other sides away, including last year’s Grand Finalists, and I’d like to see their potential reached. I care, in other words.

However, notwithstanding the fact that every time I hear of teams playing final quality football way before time, all I can think about is ‘peaking too early’. Unless they develop the ability to focus for the entire game, their progress to a higher level than last year is in some doubt.

In short, they already have a ‘winning habit’, but they need to reach the next level and breed the positive habit of playing the full 80 minutes at pace, and with unrelenting determination. If they can’t do this, and do it before June, then they will not be able to draw upon this resolve automatically (because that’s what habits are) in the heat of battle in the finals. And that’s when it matters, and that’s what Grand Finalists do.

By the way, I’m not just dirty because I picked them by 30 J

What did we learn from the Dragons? They are going to struggle to score points in the quantity needed to win a positive share of games. At this point, they are workmanlike, but appear unable to score the types of ‘repeatable’ tries they could in 2010. It looks like a long year.

The video refs have been the bane of rugby league’s existence, and threatened making the sport a complete joke. Thank goodness for some common sense being applied by Daniel Anderson and his charges (obviously a reader of this blog!).

However, why are they still using stop-frame technology when

a)      It is counterproductive

b)      They have the super slo-mo, which is actually instructive?

I tire of asking such redundant questions, but at least the refs are moving in the right direction.

Swimmers mea culpa harder to swallow than a soggy Stilnox

If Sportsbet were paying out on the overuse of the word ‘proactive’, then David Smith would have taken them to the cleaners already, and he’s only been in the job for a few sleeps (less if you count the nights of no sleep … you can get stuff for that I believe …).

Likewise, if odds were taken on the overuse of the word ‘hindsight’ in today’s swimming press conference, then they’d be 10-toes up by now. Sorry, a little of the Dr’s black humour there, with ‘10-toes up’ meaning ‘brown bread’ … ah, fugeddaboudit.

The two sports are now fused together under the umbrella of controversy that envelopes a whole code or team when, in fact, the majority are clean.

GarbageThe fact is that this press conference only went ahead because the whispers of a story wouldn’t go away. It is the same with any public mea culpa, really. The “I’m sorry” part of the equation usually has the unmentioned, but palpable “… for being caught” wafting in the ether close behind. Or if I’m using the tech-savvy word, cloud …

If anyone believes the behaviour of our wayward Weapons of Mass Delusion (and the reported bullying) was a strictly one-time affair, then they must have come down in the last shower. Not only is the behaviour a disappointing letdown of the public at large who only EVER want to support them, but it is a disgrace that young first-time Olympians had to endure the unnecessary creation of a toxic Lord of the Flies environment rather than a warm arm around the shoulder and encouraging word. Now THAT is what being an Aussie is all about.

Source: Sky News

Source: Sky News

And the worst part? No-one’s surprised! You could’ve cast a napkin over the ringleaders 5mths ago. And now the media does its best impersonation of AM breakfast raio hosts by expounding upon the obvious with a sense of revelation.

The Australian swimming team is as close to quintessential ‘Strayan-ness’ as Kangaroos, Koalas and budgie smugglers. What we have here is a rising endemic of spoiled and ungrateful athletes who seem to have profound ‘I’ problems (when they’re not referring to themselves in the 3rd person, that is).

It’s not necessarily limited to swimming, to be fair, but the messages of today’s presser are loud and clear:

  • Lack of leadership – by the team officials, led by the avuncular, she’ll be right      Leigh Nugent, and filtering down through the swimming leadership group, who either didn’t have the spunk to do something about it, or didn’t feel supported in doing so;
  • Lack of focus – Whether this was a one-night Stilnox party or not (right …), it      lifts a veil on the resolve and determination of sections of the squad. When athletes allow extraneous, irrelevant and complicating factors to intervene, their preparation is absolutely affected. I don’t buy the newly facially scrubbed Magnussen’s claim to the contrary for a second. And I have the same opinion of the walking twitterfest that defined some of the squad. Being selected for Australia is an honour, not a right, and a little focus is not much to ask for.
  • And the little fact that the chaps seemed better prepared for this press conference than they did for their races!
Stilnox
Sourse: Herald Sun

I still recall as a kid screaming for John McEnroe to win matches at the Australian Open in particular, and feeling crushed when he lost (or got defaulted). But after reading his biography and the turmoil going on in his life and head, I came to realise he didn’t stand a chance of winning those matches. Loss of focus seems to have a fairly predictable effect on results …

As a sports lover, I don’t want to see my favourite sports – any sports – completely lose their soul and joi de vivre to either money, feelings of entitlement, or more nefarious endeavours.

I want them to be like the swimming carnival I attended today where the kids were excited  to compete, happy if they came 2nd, or if they got pipped for 4th.

Any hoot, I’m off to test out another not-fit-for-human-consumption experimental drug. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but it is a lovely shade of blue and I’m sure it’ll have me whinnying like a horse by kick-off tonight.

Oh, and for what it’s worth – Rabbitohs by 30, Roosters by 10

And God help our cricketers …

Drugs in sport – Did Channel 9 teach us anything?

Last night’s Channel 9 drugs in sport “analysis” told us very little in the scheme of things. But that’s what rugby league loves – talking and navel gazing without coming up with a sensible solution. It’s an awful lot of fun, and a tremendous way to spend the day. The Dr engages patients on the couch with just this sort of banter and, before they know it, time’s up, the pressure on the chest is alleviated, and I’m off to Catalina for lunch in my newly purchased pair of Ballys.

Before commenting on the actual content though, let’s pause to reflect on the panel’s performance. Gus Gould gave us measured doses of calm reason and intelligent responses. It was a pleasure to watch. Had David Gallop been in David Smith’s seat, however, I venture to guess he might have been screeching like a gibbon monkey. His demeanour throughout has been exemplary.

As for Karl (not to be confused with Dr Karl) and Ray Hadley, I think the following charts tell the whole story without need for further comment:

I particularly liked Paul Kent’s drugs sidebar. It reminded me of an Ali G skit, but his table was chock-a-block full of contraband and replete with stories about how his mate Steve could get the stuff cheaper. Paul’s table was pretty bare, but it did its job – the Persians are pretty easy to Chart1Chart2get. I even think the guy selling The Big Issue on the corner near my place throws in a few growth hormones with every purhase.

I’m pretty sure David Smith would have appreciated an easier entry to the greatest game of all. Having just learned what NRL stood for and who Cameron Smith was, this must have come as quite some surprise. He has used the word proactive about 450,000 times in the last week, but it would have been preferable to name the clubs once it was clear there were 6 of them. How can there be a legal issue in doing so when, in a mad rush to deny a call had been received by the ACC, the 6 were named within hours on Twitter. It’s just maddening, and the NRL needs to learn what proactive means. Having punted David Gallop and highlighting the NRL’s reactive posture, it only seems to get worse.

Despite what the clubs have been saying, there is an important set of points to be understood in all of this.

First, while the press conference announcement has had the effect of tarnishing Australian sportspeople globally which is regrettable, the announcement was still very unlike the ACC as Alan Sullivan QC noted. The implication is that there is far more to this than meets the eye.

Graham Annesley said as much when he referred to the information presented to him in a briefing last night as serious, even quite scary, and that the ACC was very confident of prosecutions. It seemed to give Alan Sullivan pause. So it would be a good idea for those saying “show me the evidence” to chill unless you want to be grouped into Chart 1 above. That is not how law enforcement works.

One gets the sense that NRL and AFL involvement is the tip of the iceberg, and that the ACC’s field of vision is far larger, extending into distribution and trafficking. Therefore, expect the newsfeed to reflect this over time (in the same way the Dr’s rules changes recommendations have!). Don’t forget that the investigation has been operating for quite some time, so the idea that guilty parties will be able to “go to ground”is a bit like locking the gate after the horse steroid has bolted.

Second, do not underestimate the powerful force exerted by those who are hingeing their careers on breaking the sports-drugs-organised crime nexus. It is highly doubtful this has been brought about by a flight of fancy.

In the wash up, it looks like Channel 9 was trying to keep the fire of outrage burning with very little to back it up. Where’s John Pilger when you need him? Let’s take a step back and make comment when we know more.

As for players with this “hanging over their heads” as the saying goes, get a grip. If you’re not guilty of anyting except a bad tattoo, then relax and play some footy.

NRL: Nice Work Indigenous All Stars, But Can You Beat The Dr’s Global Team?

The All Stars match last night coincided with more than just a few column inches of organised crime, game fixing, drug-taking, dodgy boxing and just good old-fashioned cheating. You couldn’t have paid for a better build up.

When the stench of controversy blows downwind, you can tell it’s footy season. The big hits, facial massages, people saying the word ‘thousand’ in a strange dialect, and The War on English are all upon us. Ain’t it grand?

A lot of things impressed me about the game, though I do have a penchant for writing silly French-sounding words from time to time in a completely irrelevant soliloquy kind of way, and for being easily impressed.

I was impressed for example, with Ben Barba’s haircut. I was impressed with Ash Harrison’s red nose early in the game, a sight that has graced many a Leagues Club or RSL for many years. I was fascinated by the amount of ink added to the players’ arms, necks and torsos in the off season. I think I could just make out the complete Hungry Caterpillar on one of the player’s arms, though my eyesight isn’t what it used to be. I can still feel the palpable sense of embarrassment when a friend informed me that Meatloaf was not actually performing at the Super Bowl.

And I was just amazed by Cameron Smith’s workload. Not only can he organise a team like clockwork, but as captain-coach of the Storm, NRL CEO, player liaison officer, rapper and commentator, he’s burning the candle at both ends.

Oh I suppose I’d better say I was impressed with the footy so early in the season too. Not so much the commentary though, where the trial rules seemed a bridge too far for ole Rabbs (which could’ve been Billy Birmingham now that I think about it) and Sterlo (who was still banging on about bringing the ball back to the 30m line after going dead). But it’s early days …

But enough meandering drivel, because that’s not the point of this impromptu post. I can write about the game later.

Given the headlines mentioned above, I have compiled a team that I think can more than match the Indigenous All Stars following their victory. It’s almost a Warniefesto! Perhaps we can have a winner plays Dr NRL’s Global All Stars in much the same way we play the World Club Challenge? Now there’s an idea.

Dr NRL’s Global All Stars are an eclectic, mostly misunderstood group. They are a team with undoubted ambition, a group who don’t know the meaning of the term ‘glass ceiling’, but can probably recognise a glass table when they see one. They are grafters, sledgers, resourceful, and with a telephone book of contacts.

Indigenous All Stars – are you up to the challenge?

Dr NRL’s Global All Stars

Coach:                 

Dr Jack Kervorkian – a man whose game plan the players are sure to follow

Fullback

Ben Cousins – Needs to keep as far away from Warnie and Johnsy as possible so that he can concentrate on his game. Fullback is his best position and allows him the space to chime into the backline one minute, or sit back and chow down with the munchies the next. He can diffuse a bong bomb faster than he can outrun a SWAT team, and no one is in his class under the high ball.

Left Wing / Right Wing

Ben Johnson – Marion Jones – These elusive flyers have a wealth of talent and speed, though they are too modest to admit it. This pair could be a stronger weapon for the team, except Lance’s cut-out ball isn’t what it used to be, and getting anything out of the centre pairing is nigh on impossible.

Left Centre / Right Centre

Eddie Obeid / John Howard – This pair have just the right combination of sneakiness and nastiness to unsettle the opposition. They are faster with their mouth than on their feet, but are good defenders who will nonetheless scurry through any gap that opens up.

Five Eighth / Halfback

Mohammed Amir / Lance Armstrong – Amir’s no-ball problem, and his ability to take instruction without question makes him the perfect foil for Armstrong, who can organise and control any game like no other. He has superb ball skills, and kicks like a horse steroid, so I’m expecting plenty of 40/20s from him.

Lock

Shane Warne – Who else could mould this team into such a sleek, lean and mean playing machine. His poker face will have you guessing which side of the ruck he’s going to pop up on. Even though he has lost some of his muscle bulk from his playing days, his ability to bond with the team late at night and attract the right kind of cheer leading talent (not mutually exclusive events) is unparalleled.

Second Row

Hansie Cronje / Robert Trimbole – This pair has an abundance of do-it-yourself knowhow, and offers the pack a rich mixture of height and bulk. If Hansie doesn’t fix you, then Robbie will.

Props

RyanTandy / Hulk Hogan –This pair add bulk up front to go with the bulk in their hip pocket. They have had contrasting journeys to this team, even going to different acting schools. Yran lost his shirt to the bookies, but Hulk has never owned one.

Hooker

Heid Fleiss – Picks herself with her vigorous workload around a ruck, and has a very deceptive dummy.

Bench

Andrew Johns

Johnsy was pipped at the post for half by Lance, and for night-time organiser by Warnie. Also seems to prefer the glass table to the bench. A conundrum to his other benchwarmers, made even more amusing because they think Conundrum is someone called Molly’s surname.

Brian Waldron

Brian has a high work rate on the field, but an even better one off the field, preferably in a side office. Never seems to worry about the score, because he has his own version of it.

Chinese Swim Team

CST like to spend their time on the sideline wisely and productively. They can sense the flow of the game intuitively, and have a pill for any occasion.

Roger Rogerson

Roger doubles as a strike weapon on the fringes of society the ruck, as well assisting the coach deliver encouraging words to players who aren’t following the game plan.

Ballboy

Damien Oliver

Darren’s speed is often quite deceptive, and you’re never really sure how fast he’s running to retrieve the ball. Depending on which side you are on, you can wait anything from a nanosecond to half an hour to have the ball returned to you after a penalty kick.

To those who missed out, keep up the good work. There is always next year.