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Six things that shat me off about the NRL grand final

Can the Sharks go back to back? (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)
Expert
5th October, 2016
211
22675 Reads

What a great grand final and superb climax to NRL season 2016. The last 20 minutes especially had me on edge and enthralled.

The delirious celebrations of the long suffering Sharks supporters were awesome to witness. Few take pleasure in watching unbridled mob joy more than I.

However, today I want to deal with a few things that weren’t so great.

Leave Richie Sambora alone
The problem about rugby league grand finals is that the people in charge all of a sudden decide that we’ve got to have spectacular entertainment to wow the fans at the ground and watching at home.

They’ve got it in their heads that they must have Superbowl-like entertainment with big international stars or people will think us league people are hicks.

Newsflash people: we pretty much are hicks.

As much as I love it, rugby league is not and has never been classy.

It’s a simple game, played by simple people and supported by even simpler people. I don’t need or want cross promoted, flashy song and dance routines from the latest show. It’s the football. I want the usual football entertainment.

Personally I like seeing kids games, or dogs doing obstacle courses and people from the crowd trying to catch bombs or kick conversions for lots of prize money. Let’s see each team’s cheerleaders do their best routine.

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Ricky Martin may have been the featured entertainer at the 2013 grand final but what I remember is the Sea Eagles cheerleaders Eagle Rock routine.

However, it has been seemingly decreed that we will have a mini concert at each event. In that case we should make sure that the music is crowd appropriate. As I said, in 2013 we had Ricky Martin and while he went all Livin Lavida Loca on our asses, he just couldn’t get the crowd going like Good Charlotte had the year before.

Ricky just isn’t on your average NRL punters play list. Good Charlotte is.

Last year Cold Chisel was an inspired choice. Why? Because the crowd knew them and loved their music. They knew the words. I’m a huge Cold Chisel fan and as a result I also love Jimmy Barnes. However, it’s been decades since Jimmy’s voice has sounded like anything other than an angle grinder going through masonry. But it doesn’t matter because it’s our Jimmy out there belting it out.

Onya Jimmy.

No one complained, and if anyone had we would have told them to shove it.

That’s why I was so taken aback by the hostile reaction to the performance of Richie Sambora. Sure, Sambora only sang backup vocals for Bon Jovi, but they were fairly prominent backing vocals. Further, Sambora co-wrote both songs played at the grand final. While his and Orianthe’s vocal stylings weren’t a match for Jon Bon Jovi’s, they were far from Meatloaf-at-the-2011-AFL-grand-final bad.

They were great Bon Jovi songs and we all knew them. The event organisers at the NRL nailed their market.

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Some people just want to deride performing artists because that’s what they do: they bitch. They sit back and bag people out because their performance isn’t quite perfect and then they hope everyone will think they are clever for doing it. It’s almost become a sport itself. Everyone stepped into Chris Martin at last year’s Superbowl and the year before they picked on the left shark dancing behind Katy Perry.

Lots of people decided to pick on Richie Sambora this year but I reckon he did just fine. It’s grand final entertainment, not the Grammys. Get a life.

Ennis and Gallen winning made me happy

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A few weeks ago I defended Michael Ennis’ right to give it back to the Canberra crowd after the Sharks victory in the qualifying final. Being a Raiders supporter, I was able to console myself in the knowledge that Ennis had never actually won anything of note throughout his entire career.

Further, while I certainly admire Paul Gallen’s footballing ability, I did call for his exclusion from this year’s NSW State of Origin team (before retracting shortly afterwards).

Given these views, you would have thought that I would have been no fan of Gallen and Ennis breaking their premiership ducks.

The truth was far from it. Watching Gallen and Ennis joyously celebrate the Sharks win was great theatre. Say what you will, they have both totally dedicated themselves to winning an NRL title. I felt great for them having achieved their goals.

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However, what I did not enjoy was feeling like a total hypocrite. If they were going to win could they at least have done it in a grubby and underhanded manner? Me being a hypocrite and having to admit it is something I don’t enjoy.

Cooper Cronk losing made me sad
And let’s throw Cooper Cronk into that basket too. I was incensed at his blatant and continual verbal and physical targeting of Jarrod Croker both times the Raiders played the Storm this year.

It was a distinct tactic that was, for those who watched it, out of step with the persona of the hard but fair player that I feel he tries to perpetuate.

So why was it that I felt so sad for him after full time? He didn’t have the best game and I’m sure no one will be harder on his performance than the man himself.

I was on the sideline for the ABC in 2012 at AAMI Park when the Raiders demolished the Cronk captained Storm 40-12. I went to interview him after the game but he gave me a look that told me that his disappointment was such that he just couldn’t muster the words. I left him alone.

Before the grand final kicked off I thought I’d enjoy the reality of Cronk in defeat.

However, just like in 2012, after the game was over I just wanted people to leave him alone. The bloke has had a superb season and is one hell of a player. And whatever negative things I’ve thought and said about him, the truth is that I’d have him in lime green in a flash.

Again, that makes me a hypocrite. I don’t like that.

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Fifita was robbed
I am not a fan of what I know about Andrew Fifita the man. While I have been in close quarters with him on a number of occasions, I have not had a conversation with him, nor do I know more about him than what is said in the media.

However, that has included a road rage incident, he and his brother abusing a referee in a junior game and, recently, writing F.K.L. on his wrist. This apparent support of convicted coward puncher Kieran Loveridge has outraged many.

However, the NRL integrity unit is investigating the issue and allowed Fifita to continue playing in the 2016 finals.

Although he was given the all clear to play it seems to me that it was conditional. He was clearly the best player on the field for the Sharks in the grand final but didn’t win the Clive Churchill Medal.

Have a look at his stats from the game:

60 minutes playing time, 24 runs, 190 metres, 10 tackle breaks, 39 tackles, one line break, one line break assist, one crucial try, no penalties conceded, no missed tackles.

I’ve been keeping NRL stats since 1999 and those are some of the best numbers I’ve ever seen.

Luke Lewis had a good game and he is a strong player. However, his 15 runs for 134 metres, three tackle breaks, 28 tackles, one offload and one penalty conceded just wasn’t anywhere near as influential as Fifita’s effort.

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If the NRL was ok to let the big unit play then he had to be eligible to win the top prize too. Either take a stand or don’t. This issue came to prominence in the media at the very beginning of September. The NRL could have, and some argue should have, resolved their response well before the grand final. They didn’t.

The NRL could have decided to suspend him, officially clear him and let him play or find him guilty and hand down a different punishment altogether. However, in a month they didn’t manage to get around to doing any of those. For mine the key attribute for a leader is the ability to be decisive.

Fifita’s superb performance then shone the spotlight clearly on the NRL’s sluggish non-response.

Now Todd Greenberg has come out with this statement in regard to Fifita’s non selection for the Kangaroos:

“This is the day that we take a stand against poor behaviour off the field with the ultimate sanction in our sport, missing the chance to represent your own country.”

Does that mean the NRL Integrity Unit has concluded its investigation into Fifita and that missing Australian selection is his punishment?

My understanding is that the investigation is still ongoing and that this means that they’ve now decided to punish him in advance of the findings anyway.

If that’s the case, why didn’t they punish Fifita earlier and make him miss the grand final and/or other finals matches?

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While Greenberg asserts that missing Australian selection is the ultimate sanction, there are many that would disagree.

Indeed, the second most capped Kangaroo of all time and current Australian coach, Mal Meninga, famously said when asked if winning the premiership was the greatest feeling, “Yes! By far! By far! Beats playing for Australia. Beats playing for Queensland. This is what it’s all about: winning the grand final!”

Boys, if you let Fifita play, you had to also let him win the Clive Churchill Medal. Now you just look like indecisive hypocrites.

Where does Cam Smith get off?
Just when we thought we could say with certainty that the Storm, Queensland and Australian captain could be classified as an irredeemable grub for his sneaky attack on Jarrod Croker’s injured knee he comes out with a performance like the one last Sunday.

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Just when I was gleefully laughing about Denis Carnahan’s genius satirical take on the Storm Captain – “Can’t Touch Smith” – he not only is the second best on ground with his remarkable 70 tackles almost single-handed holding the Storm’s defensive line together, he then also makes the classiest concession speech that I’ve ever heard.

For years I’ve said that if I was putting together a team that Cam Smith would be the first player I’d want. However, I was genuinely put off by his off-the-ball targeting of Croker’s knee.

However, when he plays the game he did in the grand final, follows it up with a concession speech of that calibre and then acknowledges publicly that he does whatever it takes to win it makes it impossible not to deeply admire him. And that really, really annoyed me.

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Steve Price in the defensive line
A picture has emerged of the Cronulla Sharks blue shirt trainer Steve Price illegally on the field in the last moments of the grand final. He had been prowling the touch line, presumably yelling out instructions to the Shark’s defenders.

However, the image reveals that he was actually on the field of play during those crucial last moments, directly in front of gun touch judge Jeff Younis. It has been suggested by some on social media that Ben Hampton may have confused Price for a Sharks defender and chosen not to pass to the actually completely unmarked Chase Blair as a result.

Blue shirt trainers being on field in complete contravention of the NRL Operations Manual is a big issue.

I’ve raised it in relation to Allan Langer’s constant presence on the field and in regard to Rabbitohs blue shirt trainer Kurt Wrigley manhandling of an opposition player.

While it was noticeable that Wrigley was replaced by Matt King as the Rabbitohs blue shirt trainer, the continued and constant presence of blue shirt trainers on the field shows that the NRL has no intention of enforcing their own rules.

I have looked at the footage and I do not believe that Price’s illegal presence on the playing field impacts on the play. The way the pass came to Hampton caused him to stop to catch it and, through that, turn away from the opportunities outside him and the presence of any possible markers.

However, because Price was on the field this question can be raised. We shouldn’t even be contemplating a trainer effecting the result of a grand final. And yet here we are…

Here is my question to the NRL’s General Manager of Football Operations Nathan McGuirk and to NRL Chief Executive Todd Greenberg: what do you gain by allowing the blue shirt trainers so much latitude?

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What makes it worth it for you to continue to allow the ever growing encroachment of trainers with the accompanying risks of them impacting on the play, influencing the result, causing acrimonious interactions with opposition players and setting such a poor example to the lower levels of the game?

I simply don’t understand why they just don’t enforce the rules they were hired to uphold, especially when doing so avoids so many potentially horrible ramifications and there is seemingly zero to gain from not doing it.