Freddy and Joey: The NRL’s Pacific solution
Andrew Johns while playing for the Newcastle Knights in 2006. Johns was announced as the eighth Rugby League Immortal overnight (AAP Image/Action Photographics/Grant Trouville)
News filtered through over the wireless yesterday that two of rugby league’s most astute minds, Brad ‘Brains Trust’ Fittler and Andrew ‘the Analyst’ Johns, had stumbled upon a major discovery.
A discovery so big, so paradigm shiftingly profound, that it would make the pair’s earlier unearthing of the 4-5 Happy Hour at the Coco Mungo Bar down the road look like finding Des Hasler in a bad mood by comparison.
It was… a big Fijian.
In Fiji, no less.
And, proving that the two footy greats haven’t lost their connection with the common man, they asked him the exact question every bloke does when they come across a big unit who looks just friendly enough not to punch them.
“Mate, do you play footy or something?”
In this case it was a negative response by the gentleman, a porter at the International Hotel (no relation to Scott).
Utilising the instinctive spirit that they were known for on the field, Fittler and Johns ushered the young man into the nearest Craig Gower chariot and whisked him off to a nearby park where they put him through a series of sprints, passing drills and improvised press conferences.
No sooner had the world’s most powerful Porter burned up the field, juggled three balls with one hand and proved an insightful yet deeply moving acceptance speech, that he was being auctioned off over the phone to the most desperate NRL club CEO. Sold! To the man with the swollen face and wispy white hair drinking the choccy milk.
And that, my friends, is that. A young bloke gets a chance, Fiji rugby league another hero and Rabs another name to mispronounce. Thank you ball boys, thank you linesman.
But, should it be?
Should blokes who live outside of hardcore rugby league areas only get a shot because someone famous bumps into them by chance? This is supposed to be professional sport, not hand modelling.
It’s not like the young man in question, Etonia Nabuli, is some bloke paddling a canoe off some distant island and has never seen a footy field before. He plays club rugby union in Fiji, a country that in the last couple of years has produced many high quality NRL players.
Why then no path for him to have a crack at the NRL, other than pure serendipity?
Fittler and Johns were in Fiji combining a family holiday with some skills clinics and charity work.
Great stuff, but they had no duty to headhunt NRL talent. What if they’d decided to have another go on the slippery dip instead? Would Nabuli still be hauling luggage up the stairs for pasty overweight tourists?
Every time a footy player from one of ‘the islands’ is uncovered everyone raves about it, yet further development is left up to the cash strapped local bodies with minimal NRL intervention.
The ARLC will argue this is an issue for the international body, but I wonder if the AFL felt the same way when they were kicking a ball around on a beach in Tonga with Israel Folau’s third cousin?
Frankly the NRL is one of only a few of professional sporting bodies in this part of the world, and if it knows the talent’s out there it’s time they went and bloody well grabbed it. Make any players recruited from the islands not count to the cap, a loophole that closes the minute they refuse to pay for their country of Origin.
Yes, this will be difficult to do.
But would it be any more difficult than hoping a former player on holidays isn’t sleeping off a hangover rather than bumping into the next Nandruku in the lobby?
The only other option I can see is to send Joey and Freddy on an NRL funded round the world tour, sending them to the four corners of the globe hoping to find talent in obscure places. Sure, the chances of them coming across a Sherpa in the Himalayas with a good cut-out pass is pretty slim.
But geez, film it and at least we’d have something funny to watch on telly in the Summer.
And that my friends, is a solution in itself.
Follow Chris on Twitter @Vic_Arious
Chris Chard is a sports humour writer commenting on the often absurd nature of professional sport. A rugby league fan boy with a good blend of youth and experience taking things one week at a time, Chris has written for The Roar, Rugby League Player Magazine, US Sports Downunder, the QRL and People. Tweet him @Vic_Arious