Friday night’s rugby league Test between Australia and New Zealand once again brought forward a deeply personal issue for me – it has become increasingly difficult to wholeheartedly support the Kangaroos.
They definitely wear the right colours and (mostly) speak with the right accents but there is something that has crept in to the way they play the game that doesn’t represent what our national teams have typically stood for.
I’m talking about a lack of respect for the match officials, and it is born of arrogance within a certain group of players which has gone unchecked.
Arrogance in this level of player is inevitable. Some of the players within this team will no doubt be remembered among the very greatest that have ever played the game, and it would be foolish to think they hadn’t bought into a certain level of the hype, especially where the hype is justified. If you play a sport to the level that some of these players are currently doing, it’ll only take so long before you realise you actually are pretty good.
Arrogance is also desirable to a point. It gives greater confidence and can help bring out the full range of skills and options. The problem arises when the arrogance goes unchecked and it comes out in the way they address match officials. Two incidents from Friday’s game highlight this for me.
The first occurred in the 33rd minute of the game. New Zealand’s Shaun Johnson put through a testing grubber which took a deflection of Jonathan Thurston into the in goal. As a result Billy Slater was out of position and, in desperation, blatantly shouldered the chasing New Zealand player to the ground.
This was one of the most clear cut professional fouls you are likely to see and there was not a second of debate within the commentary team about whether Slater would be binned.
When the video ref had had his look Slater was finally sent to the bin and his side escaped without a penalty try being awarded against them. Slater decided just taking his very much earned punishment from the man with the whistle was unacceptable.
Instead of shaking his head and trundling off he decided before he went he had to put the ref in his place by giving him a condescending lecture about “making sure he does the whole game like this.”
The second example occurred shortly afterwards, in the 37th minute. Greg Inglis attempted to play the ball and plainly lost control. The reaction from Thurston, who was standing at dummy half, was to turn to the touch judge and hurl abuse until he was intimidated enough to intervene and award a penalty.
It must also be said that Thurston is a repeat offender with respect to the abuse of officials.
These examples show the players’ egos have risen to the point where they feel, in the heat of those moments, they are above the officials and therefore the structure of the game itself. They are very humble off the field but the true test of character comes when the heat is on and it’s a test they both failed on Friday.
When these kinds of incidents occur it makes it very hard for me to give my all in support of the Kangaroos and, unfortunately, it has been a growing trend in the side over the last few years. The fact that, in both these instances, the players were so clearly in the wrong takes their behaviour from just being questionable to quite embarrassing.
With these players in new territory, with respect to the cash generation and media exposure, they probably don’t get many people around them who are willing to tell them to pull their heads in. So it’s left up to us.
Billy, Jonathan, pull your heads in.
You are great players but ordinary refs. Just as we wouldn’t get better play if the refs were carrying the ball, we wouldn’t get better decisions if you were holding the whistle. So just keep your traps shut.
Or, at the very least, get your facts straight first.