The Round 22 Rubdown: The ‘Suppository’ of all NRL Knowledge

The Rubdown is a very appropriate title for a rugby league commentary. I can even smell the ointment in the air as I type, though it’s simply not true that I sit here with masking tape around my head, despite what you may have heard! It is even more suitable after the weekend’s shenanigans. Perhaps a flirtation with a title incorporating Touch Up, Pat Down or Grope might have also worked.

Be that as it may, there is only one place to begin the Round 22 Touch Up, and that is right in the nether regions of the Storm-Rabbitohs clash on Friday, where we bore witness to one of the great squirrel grips of our age.

A contrite Sam Burgess fronts the media

A contrite Sam Burgess fronts the media

Having completed a tackle on Melbourne’s Will Chambers, Sam Burgess took the concept of 3rd man ‘flop’ in a new and unexpected direction by checking to see if (the plaintiff) Mr. Chambers was doing the same, or if he was as aroused as he was. It looked to all and sundry as if Sam (the defendant) was checking Will’s chamber, so to speak. The whole box and dice was in his the palm of his hand, though it wasn’t clear Chambers was in the mood for a board game. Perhaps ‘Twister’, but I digress …

Now, I have no idea whether Sam ‘the unofficial face of rugby league’ Burgess was paying homage to the feats of those who went before him in the bygone days of the 60s and 70s where grabbing another man’s genitalia was considered socially acceptable if in the vicinity of a pair of steel studs and a pigskin.

Matter of fact, if we had left Sam to his own devices he might well have unearthed a ‘sheath’ of alternate origin and produced something even more exciting (like his brother before him). But as they say, this is but a counterfactual, and we will never know unless Gwyneth Paltrow and that snotty little Scottish guy peer out from behind a sliding door (or Will’s back one).

Perhaps he was attempting an impromptu prostate examination in keeping with the theme of the round as highlighted on the Parramatta strip. Perhaps a crude ‘cough test’?

What is certain is that the ‘face of rugby league’ curse has struck yet again, even if Sam was only the ‘unofficial’ poster boy. His was the face that adorned every rugby league show with regularity, and his were the fingers in numerous pies.

We shouldn’t be too harsh, however, because even the Prime Minister in waiting, a man with whom he shares the unfortunate happenstance of English not being his first language, is talking about areas we usually reserve for impolite company.

It is possible we are all missing the point, and the language being spoken here is the language of love (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

The unnerving aspect of all this is the fact that the vision of said tackle-tickling had its genesis as a social media phenomenon, and was apparently not spotted by the Match Review Committee (MRC).

Have we gone back to the days where the committee member lobs the VHS cassette in the general direction of his wife so that she can do his homework, and then proceeds to the nearest watering hole without even watching the game? This is where Sam might become exceedingly useful in locating the MRC’s collective heads and extracting them from where the ‘sun don’t shine’. It’s worth a plea bargain, at least.

His two week suspension (one for each Jatz Cracker) has even led to comments from the dementia ward of the rugby league nursing home, the inference being that if ‘the biff’ hadn’t been banned, Sam Burgess would not have been ‘moved’ to commit such an act of foul play.

The logical conclusion from this is that Burgess would have decked Chambers on the run had the ban not been in place, invited solely by Chambers’ carrying a ball in one arm and running – you know, playing football.

On a serious note, accepting the ban was the only sensible course to take. It is clear to me that the David Smith-led NRL wants none of this crass, classless imagery in the game (the motive behind the ‘ban the biff’, which is nothing other than applying the rules anyway), and made it known that a challenge was not a good idea.

Saying Nein to Nines

If there’s anything I dislike more than biased political reporting (either way), it’s Rugby league 9s!

As far as bad ideas go, if this isn’t the worst, it’s in the semi finals.

Apparently the number ‘9’ exhibits the qualities of leadership and clear thinking. Cats have 9 lives, the radio station numbering system is based on 9s. The Chinese regard it so highly they move their interest rates in multiples of 9! Seemingly positive portents for the future, no?

On the flipside, it describes a very poor free-to-air television station that dispensed with counting 9s long ago when it reached a billion dollars in debt, just as quickly as it dispensed with providing any real value to the sports lover, preferring delayed matches with regular breaks of 10 commercials.

As far as rugby league goes, a 9-a-side match is not materially different to a real NRL match of 13 players on each team. There isn’t the open space of a 7s tournament, and all we will see is a re-run of 13-a-side rugby league with slightly more points. The defences will remain compressed into the middle of the field and slide laterally, which means more kicks and, well … bore me.

The entire premise of the idea is flawed. Not only does it take away the more meaningful and festival atmosphere of the All Stars match under the guise of resting players, particularly in a World Cup year, but the best players are not even obliged to play in it.

Craig Bellamy will only sign players up under threat of fines or other punishment, Justin Hodges baulks at the idea on moral grounds (I know … stay with me), and I don’t blame them.

To be clear, this is not a tournament rugby league contracts are based upon, and which cannot be imposed retrospectively. Players are paid to play NRL. Representative honours (and windfalls, which is the point) are a supplement to that.

Does the 9s tournament have a representative pay structure that accrues to the players (such as $30,000 for each Origin appearance)? If not, then why participate and risk pre-season injury? For what?

Has the salary cap been amended specifically to accommodate this tournament? If not, the same question applies.

It’s not part of the standard NRL architecture, and it will be boring! Which is possibly the worst crime any sport can commit! Be assured, the only exposure I will have to it will be by accident.

When will the NRL understand that its product has certain persistent features that draw the fans, and proceed along that path?

Things like tribal atmosphere born of lifelong affiliation, local derbies, meaningful contests that ignite passion. And a Premiership that has stood the test of time to create, then recreate, its own history and tradition? The laws of economics are quite clear on this, and all businesses understand it – if there is no demand for something, supplying it is a futile, costly exercise.

Fans love NRL. As for 9s, I’ll believe it when I see it. It’s a poor man’s T20 that is inapplicable to the NRL, and therefore, intellectually bankrupt.

If they were really serious about providing value, they would either reduce the amount of players on each team to make it less NRL-like or, better still, enter teams into the rugby 7s tournaments where the format dictates the rules differences dissolve away sufficiently to remove any real impediment to the success of an NRL team (or teams) – only ability and athleticism will differentiate them.

Can you imagine Inglis up against Folau? Barba vs Halfpenny? Slater vs Dagg? Sonny Bill vs McCaw (or anyone else for that matter)?

But then, the NRL aren’t even running it …

David Smith is emerging as a more proactive custodian of the game, but I long for the day when I can finally do away with the ‘rugby league succeeds despite itself’ phrase.

Postscript on the Tigers

I recall when the Tigers were synonymous with free flowing rugby league. They played with flair (not Blair), unpredictability and joie de vivre. They were the NRL equivalent of the Galloping Greens, whose fortunes have not been favourable for almost a decade now.

The Tigers have fallen into a similar morass, and are beginning to look increasingly like the moribund Magpies that were only saved by virtue of a joint venture with the Balmain Tigers.

 

Wests Tigers board meetings have become increasingly intense and divided

Wests Tigers board meetings have become increasingly intense and divided

There isn’t much to be said that hasn’t appeared in the media already about back room brawling and failure to attend to details, such as not having even secured their inspirational captain Robbie Farah. This is appalling, but not quite as alarming as the prospect of sacking a coach who has been in the job six months, and who has been stuck in the middle of an administrative muppet show that would make Fozzie Bear look like Stephen Hawking.

To keep it short, here’s the deal – the NRL should quietly raise the prospect that both joint venture clubs tender for a standalone licence to compete in the NRL, with the loser accepting the decision and continuing its journey to improve its local competitions. Or, they could come together for the combined benefit of the club and NRL, and become the force they were. It was only last year when they were one of the favourites to win the Premiership. This is sad beyond belief.

I do hope that Potter has the helm next year, and I look forward to the full back page tabloid spread that apologises to him for undermining and destabilising his position, his life, and his family, in the name only of a good headline.

Media have a lot to answer for, but I don’t hold my breath because it is getting worse. The headline and race to ‘be first’ seem to be the only real objectives adhered to these days. Accuracy doesn’t even make second place, which is an enormous over-reach when it impacts a person’s career.

……

Anyway, more stats tomorrow. Sink your teeth into data that contextualises ladder positions. It’s a bit of a ‘what might have been’ for many clubs this year. As a hint, the Dragons have played 10 matches this year where the result has been 6 points or less …

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