It was somewhat ironic that on the day Australia collectively mourned the loss of the voice of summer, the voice of two states’ winters showed telltale signs that age was also catching up with him.
Not as iconic as the great, irreplaceable Richie Benaud, nor as universally adored, Ray Warren’s dulcet tones have nonetheless soundtracked many of rugby league’s greatest moments.
And by greatest moments, I of course refer primarily to the moment where most of Queensland had a hand in a try which seemed to work its way down from Cooktown, across the Tropic of Capricorn and Tweed River, veer west to Broken Hill then land itself in the north-east corner of the Sydney Football Stadium.
Champagne rugby league, with a top-shelf whisky chaser provided by the man on the mic and his two irrepressible sidekicks.
Things were well and truly bubbling in the Lang Park cauldron last Friday as well, and that’s before we talk about the foam gushing out of the gobs of rival props Sam Thaiday and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves as they impersonated two bison in a David Attenborough doco.
The Broncos and Roosters went end-to-end for 80-and-a-bit minutes. Blokes were shanking field goals like the Steeden was made of flubber. Lachlan Maranta thought he was LeBron James. Ben Hunt eventually remembered that tries are permissible in extra time. Rugby league was the winner.
It was frenetic stuff, and the man known as Rabs struggled to keep up.
On at least three occasions he called last tackle when there was still one to go in the set, then carried on calling as if nothing was amiss while the elephant casually strolled around several-hundred thousand lounge rooms.
By the end of play, his voice was nearly shot. On his regular Saturday morning slot on Triple M Radio, he was neck deep in throat lozenges to help get through the allotted three hours.
These things are understandable. Being a play-by-play caller is no doubt a high-intensity gig. After the classic first Origin game of 2014, even Rabs himself admitted he didn’t know how many of those he had left in him.
What isn’t understandable is what now seems a running joke between some members of the Nine commentary team – the mispronunciation of player names of Polynesian or Melanesian descent.
This week it was boom Roosters rookie Sio Siua Taukeiaho’s turn to have his name minced up on national television.
In previous weeks, Tigers young gun Ava Seumanufagai has had the comic “SEE-YOU-MA-NOO-FUN-GUY” treatment.
On this and other occasions, grown men with microphones tittered like they’d just laid a zinger on the new kid at kindergarten, and acted like they didn’t know any better.
Full disclosure: I cannot pronounce either of those names, nor Warriors rookies who are currently tearing it up in my fantasy football squad. But it is part of my job description to ensure both of the above, plus Solomone Kata and Tuimoala Lolohea, are correctly spelt before The Roar’s subs ensure this piece is otherwise readable.
The NRL trumpeted the fact that in 2012 the official media guide distributed to all full-time broadcasters and scribes would come with ‘islander’ names spelt phonetically. The guide that year went a step further, with Danny Weidler pointing out that whoever from the Warriors thought Lewis Brown needed to be broken down into syllables was clearly ‘avin a laugh.
This year, one made it as far as ABC Grandstand’s Perth studio…
I really like how the @NRL put a pronunciation guide in their media guide. Other professional sports should do the same.
— Clint Wheeldon (@ClintWheeldon) March 12, 2015
… so we can assume the home of rugby league’s post office box would’ve been overflowing with the things well before season kickoff.
Which makes the continual mangling of admittedly tricky names, then making the mangling a discussion point – ‘deliberate idiocy’, as fellow Roarer Geoff Lemon referred to it in that takedown piece of Nine’s cricket commentary team in February. It is not only unforgiveable, but disrespectful to young men who have dedicated their lives up to this point to the goal of performing on the Friday Night Football stage.
You’ve got one job, Rabs, and you can be bloody good at it. If you can no longer do it properly it might be time to hang up the microphone.
Everyone has to eventually. Just ask John Farnham.