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Grubs, everywhere

Matt Cleary Columnist

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    Some years ago, the people of New Zealand were upset that Quade Cooper’s knee collided with Richie McCaw’s head. And they booed and booed our Quade, and booed him again.

    It was a Bledisloe Cup fixture prior to the World Cup of 2011. And it was all a bit of a thing.

    McCaw, you see, for our same-same-but-different cuzzy-bros of New Zealand, is way above Jesus. McCaw is the Uber Kiwi. McCaw is Sir Edmund Hillary and Wal Footroot and that curly-haired dingbat sang “Slice of Heaven”, all wrapped in the holy No.7 jumper of the All Blacks.

    Because look at him! Handsome, dimpled chin, butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth it would turn into chocolate love-gunk.

    Men want to be Richie McCaw. Women want to be Richie McCaw.

    If a straight Kiwi man had to choose between making love with another man or death, he would choose to make love with Richie McCaw.


    Richie McCaw can fly a helicopter. Richie McCaw is New Zealand’s freakin’ god. Richie McCaw is the nicest and best rugby player ever.

    And his game, well … McCaw won and won and won. He won contests, he won ball; he won over referees and crowds and the respect of everyone who played against him – except, it seems, to Kiwis’ taste, Quade Cooper, who kneed Richie in the head accidentally-on-purpose.

    All Blacks captain Richie McCaw

    Photo: AFP

    Yet watch his footy, Richie, closely. He didn’t miss ‘em. There were subtle parts to his game that caused accidental-on-purpose physical and emotional pain to his opponents.

    Little elbow here, little knee nudge there. A smirk, a sledge. Not enough to be penalised by refs (he was Richie McCaw after all, old chocolate love gob), but enough to rile the likes of our Quade, who bonked his knee into Richie’s melon, and thus incensed the country of New Zealand.

    For how dare Quade Cooper – covered in tattoos, clearly a flashy Aussie mug lair, a grub – do such a nasty thing to Richie, the best and nicest rugby player ever, with the dimpled chin and chocolate love gob, and all that.

    The very thought.

    In the midst of the maelstrom of late 2011 – in which New Zealand’s flat-out desperation to not lose the Rugby World Cup manifested an attitude not befitting the world’s nicest people – former Wallabies hooker Phil Kearns went in to bat for Cooper, and by extension Australian rugby, when he declared that “You’re not out there to be nice to them.”

    Kearns’ contention was that the game of rugby was about, in part, hurting your opponent. Beating them. And that Richie McCaw knew that as well as anyone. He’d hurt as many as had hurt him. And to grouse about it was, well, a tad hypocritical.

    Which brings us, in a Canberra roundabout kind of way, to the announcement that champion Queensland and Australia No.9 Cameron Smith – who recently complained of being bopped, and quite roughly, in the testicles by Dragons back-rower ‘Honest’ Jeremy Latimore – has announced his retirement from representative rugby league.

    (‘Honest’ Jeremy? I dunno – I just made it up. He seems honest, in an honest toiler kind of way. Played golf with him once, he is hopeless.)

    Anyway! Yes. That’s the end of Cam Smith in rep footy.

    Johnathan Thurston Cameron Smith Queensland Maroons State of Origin NRL 2017

    AAP Image/Darren England

    No more will we see his ‘perfect’ dissections of Blues and black jumpers. No more of his cool incisions. No more Origin, no more Tests.

    No more of his immortal brand of feisty, super-skilled and ‘perfect’ rugby league for Queensland and Australia, only now for Melbourne Storm, his heart.

    And with Smith’s retirement from rep stuff comes reflection. And one reflection is this: like the great Richie, Cam Smith won over referees and won so many games they’ll build statues of him.

    Storm and Maroons fans will continue to love him so much they’d fly in a helicopter piloted by him even though he doesn’t have to know how to fly one.

    Smith is the McCaw of Australian rugby league, but without the absolute adoration of the entire nation. For such is the partisan nature of Australian rugby league, Smith is either a legend or a grub, or something in between, depending who you ask.

    Don’t believe it? Friend, the magnificent Wally Lewis once ran out as captain of Australia wearing the green-and-gold jumper, and fans yelled “Wally’s a wanker”.

    It happened. Fact.

    And when Cam Smith captained Australia, there were still plenty who noted his excellent defensive hardness, and called him a grub.

    Maybe not out loud. But they still thought it.

    Fact. Cam Smith: grub.

    Grub? It’s an odd word for rugby league, a game in which – as Phil Kearns said of old cousin Rah-Rah – you’re not out there to be nice to each other.

    In league, often as not, grubs are good. Grubs are, like, valuable. Mick Ennis won the premiership in 2016, lauded as the game’s best grub.

    Michael Ennis of the Sharks

    AAP Image/Paul Miller

    Smith, however, is held to a higher standard.

    Smith’s hatey-people will point to that leg-wrenching wishbone thing on Titans man Kevin Proctor as proof of his elite grubbiness. They’ll say he’s been doing it for years! He’s a grub!

    And they’ll be a bit right and largely wrong, and theirs is but one opinion of 19,843 you’ll find on this forum alone. Such is the way of the fan, and of man – we are a vexed, silly species.

    But here’s a thing: why is Smith a ‘grub’ and someone else – Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, say, or Sam Burgess or Frank-Paul Nu’uausala – a ‘hard man’ or ‘enforcer’?

    Why are the biggest, baddest men on the field often the most popular?

    Why is such an excellent, surgeon of a league man like Smith – dimple-chinned, handsome and hard, but with a body better suited to bad financial planning – not universally admired?

    My theory?

    Because he’s a Queenslander. Because he’s a winner. Because he’s a grub.

    Cameron Smith is all these things.

    Cameron Smith is rugby league.

    Matt Cleary
    Matt Cleary

    Matt Cleary is a sports writer from Sydney. He enjoys golf, footy and Four Pines Pale Ale, and spends as much time as conscience allows at Long Reef GC. Tweet him @journomatcleary, or read him at his website. You can find more of his golf columns over at Patreon.

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    The Crowd Says (81)

    • May 18th 2018 @ 7:25am
      Duncan Smith said | May 18th 2018 @ 7:25am | ! Report

      Clever article.

      Every Smith-hating NRL fan wishes he played for their team.

      • May 18th 2018 @ 8:00am
        Papa T said | May 18th 2018 @ 8:00am | ! Report

        Agree. Great player, dislike his subtle grubbiness, but geez I wish he played for the dogs!

        • Roar Guru

          May 18th 2018 @ 8:07am
          Edward L'Orange said | May 18th 2018 @ 8:07am | ! Report

          I so often remember watching Australia and just breathing a sigh of relief because I didn’t have to spend half the match getting worked up about how much of a grub Cam Smith was. It was someone else’s problem.
          Grub depends on your perspective. If he’s your grub, it’s just perfect gamesmanship.

          • Roar Rookie

            May 18th 2018 @ 10:42am
            Matthew Pearce said | May 18th 2018 @ 10:42am | ! Report

            “If he’s your grub, it’s just perfect gamesmanship”

            Yeah, that’s pretty much what it boils down to, doesn’t it? Smith, Slater, Gallen, Beau Scott, McGuire, etc. etc. – it all depends on whether or not they play for your team.

            Except Ennis, of course.

            • May 18th 2018 @ 10:39pm
              Brian George said | May 18th 2018 @ 10:39pm | ! Report

              And Gallen.

      • May 18th 2018 @ 8:36am
        bazza said | May 18th 2018 @ 8:36am | ! Report

        Sorry mate i would never want him playing for the eels.

        • May 18th 2018 @ 8:59am
          Duncan Smith said | May 18th 2018 @ 8:59am | ! Report

          I don’t believe you, Bazza.

          • May 18th 2018 @ 9:18am
            Bee bee said | May 18th 2018 @ 9:18am | ! Report

            Agree, even Cam Smith couldnt save the Eels.

        • Roar Guru

          May 18th 2018 @ 10:06am
          spruce moose said | May 18th 2018 @ 10:06am | ! Report

          Yes, because Jarryd Hayne is a beacon of integrity…

        • May 18th 2018 @ 1:14pm
          Jarryd said | May 18th 2018 @ 1:14pm | ! Report

          I don’t think you have to worry about that bazza

      • Roar Guru

        May 18th 2018 @ 10:39am
        Michael Keeffe said | May 18th 2018 @ 10:39am | ! Report

        Yep. There are players you can admire and enjoy watching no matter who they play for and then there are players you can only love when they are on your team. Gallen, Hodges, Bird etc

        Smith was one of these, I’m a Queenslander but hated watching him play when it was for the Storm. When he pulls on the Maroon jersey he’s one of my favourites.

        There are other players e.g. Benji Marshall who when in form I enjoy watching no matter who they play for.

        • May 18th 2018 @ 11:53am
          Birdy said | May 18th 2018 @ 11:53am | ! Report

          My favourite 2 grubs have to be Ennis and Maloney. While neither would ever put an opponent’s safety at risk their endless chat would drive anyone nuts.
          Talking about Soo on the footy show the current Qld players were jokingly asked if they were allowed to punch any player who would it be.
          They all smiled and answered Maloney.
          Even your opponents love a grub.

          • May 18th 2018 @ 12:44pm
            kk said | May 18th 2018 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

            Great double, Birdy. I also love ’em both.

            Notice when the camera goes into the rooms, Jimmy is always doing the talking.

            Over at Fox, Mick is now the leading male on the premises after completing his
            apprenticeship with Sterlo. Not good at the call, but great on the read of a game.

            Both loveable Grubs. They are also two of the best analysts of the game.

            I reckon Smithy may hang the boots up sooner than anticipated. Patrick Delaney
            will make him an offer that Barbara will tell him he cannot refuse.

            • May 18th 2018 @ 2:10pm
              Birdy said | May 18th 2018 @ 2:10pm | ! Report

              Great to have a great wife as co captain.
              I thought Cronk was crazy playing on when the security of a media job beckoned.
              Have to agree kk that Cameron Smith will retire after the last club game this year with Billy following.

    • May 18th 2018 @ 7:38am
      Paul said | May 18th 2018 @ 7:38am | ! Report

      Great article Matt and a really good comparison between two players who have been pretty good at what they do in their respective codes.

      You made an interesting comparison between Smith and JWH, asking why one bloke’s considered a hard man and another a possible grub, but I think you’ve already answered your own question. Smith and McCaw played the game right on the limit of the Laws and often past the limits in many cases. Their tactics have not been open and honest like a JWH illegal hit, but they play to maximise the advantage to their team.

      I watched a replay of an All Blacks v Australia Test to see if a mates theory was correct – McCaw spent at least 60 or 70% of the game offside or playing illegally, then had the “whome” face going when he was eventually penalised. Smith has had the same thing for most of his career – the wrestling tactics, chicken wings tackles and that leg strainer on Proctor were designed to maim the player – but every time he’s pinged, he claims he’s innocent.

      Hard men own up to their errors and cop it on the chin. Others, like Smith and McCaw don’t. These guys might be classed as legends but their track record of “grubby” play might suggest otherwise.

    • May 18th 2018 @ 7:53am
      Yawn said | May 18th 2018 @ 7:53am | ! Report

      I’ve never met him so I cant say that I hate him, but he is a grub. 15 odd years of watching him push gamesmanship to continual new levels, little niggling antics, always playing the victim and always wanting more money gets a bit tiresome. And if anyone dared call him out they’d be screamed down, well in Queensland at least. Not a dog like Slater, but a grub nevertheless.

    • Roar Guru

      May 18th 2018 @ 7:59am
      The Barry said | May 18th 2018 @ 7:59am | ! Report

      It’s extremely difficult to name an all time best player. Mine changes now and then but Smith is certainly near the top of the list.

      He’s just superb. His decision making is the best I’ve seen. I’ve always enjoyed watching his first movement out of dummy half. It’s always the right decision, exploiting any temporary weakness in the defence and always, always gets his team moving forward.

      I’ve always thought he’s an intelligent, thoughtful good bloke off the field.

      But he is a bit of a grub when he’s on the field. So what? I don’t have too much of a problem with that. But at the same time you can’t just write off his role in the wrestling holds as “that chicken wingy thing” it’s been a blight on the game and Smith has been front and centre. He made the choice and if there’s consequences he needs to carry them.

      It’s an interesting question which is grubbier, the big prop who is primed to play as aggressively as possible and crosses the line occasionally versus a player who twists arms, legs and necks to try and slow down a play the ball at the risk of serious injury. I think I have more of a problem with the latter than the former.

      I remember a Manly v Storm game quite a few years ago. Brett Stewart had been tackled as the ball went. He was sitting up. As Smith walked past he dropped his knee into Stewart’s shoulder. Not hard, it didn’t hurt Stewart at all. But it was just an opportunity for a bit of niggle, a bit of grubbiness and Smith took it.

      Someone can be a great player and a bit of a grub simultaneously.

      • Roar Rookie

        May 18th 2018 @ 5:41pm
        McTavish said | May 18th 2018 @ 5:41pm | ! Report

        I get the feeling that this” Cam is a grub who hurts players” is a keyboard warrior perspective. If there was a basis in reality then where, after 400 odd games, is the procession of played who he has actually injured. Or, at the very least, other players who have actually played against him, complaining about him. What he is, is simply a great rugby league player, in a game that is arguably the most demanding team contact sport in the world, with a key objective of getting on top of your opponents physically. It could be argued that not only is it possible to “be a great player and a bit of a grub simultaneously”, it is impossible not to be!
        Detractors only notice because he is so good and because of his longevity. Where was the chorus of” grub” when “honest” Jeremy Latimore clipped Smith in the family jewels. The consensus seemed to be to suck it up and get on with it as it is a tough game. We don’t care if “honest” is a grub or not because he is not good enough yet.

        • Roar Guru

          May 18th 2018 @ 8:29pm
          The Barry said | May 18th 2018 @ 8:29pm | ! Report

          Last week…

          • Roar Rookie

            May 18th 2018 @ 8:53pm
            McTavish said | May 18th 2018 @ 8:53pm | ! Report

            After 380×50 tackles a game you present 1 tackle?

            • Roar Rookie

              May 18th 2018 @ 8:57pm
              McTavish said | May 18th 2018 @ 8:57pm | ! Report

              That’s 19,000 tackles btw!

        • Roar Guru

          May 18th 2018 @ 8:31pm
          The Barry said | May 18th 2018 @ 8:31pm | ! Report

          Plenty of opponents came out and complained during the height of the Storms wrestling hold era.

          Just because it was a few years ago doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

          • May 18th 2018 @ 8:42pm
            Lovey said | May 18th 2018 @ 8:42pm | ! Report

            Yes Barry, but it was a Storm tactical thing, if that, seeing as wrestling was coached before, and then caught on throughout the teams. But it was not a Cameron Smith “thing” so he can’t be called a grub for that.

            I think the reason people dislike him is –

            . He behaves as a school prefect but puts in the benign sly dig himself, and
            . He is just so good.

          • May 18th 2018 @ 10:46pm
            Brian George said | May 18th 2018 @ 10:46pm | ! Report

            Is your moniker supposed to be pronounced “The “space” Barry” or Thebarry as in Thebarton (the suburb)

            Always wondered as I figure someone would have to be a world class throb to call themselves “The…”.

    • Roar Guru

      May 18th 2018 @ 8:01am
      BA Sports said | May 18th 2018 @ 8:01am | ! Report

      I quite like the comparison to Richie McCaw.

      I’m born and bred in NSW, Smith is a champion to me. Like Federer, I just want to watch the best be the best and that is what Smith is. Neither are built in the traditional mold of their opponents and counterparts, but both are so technically gifted and so competitive, it is a great thing to watch.

      Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but to me much of what people try to sight as “grub” traits in Smith, are no different to 90% of players and it is just classic Australian tall poppy syndrome, nothing more.

      • May 18th 2018 @ 8:39am
        bazza said | May 18th 2018 @ 8:39am | ! Report

        He is nothing like the Fed what an insulting comparison.
        The fed is all class doesn’t need to resort to those tactics that smith uses ever.
        The fed has had to re invent himself a few times.

        • May 18th 2018 @ 11:05am
          Duncan Smith said | May 18th 2018 @ 11:05am | ! Report

          I’ve got to agree, there aren’t many chicken wings, grapple tackles, or knees in tennis. You are 100% correct.

          If Smith played tennis, he would be straight onto those niggly grapple tackles against his opponents like Nadal etc – yeah!

      • Roar Rookie

        May 18th 2018 @ 10:10am
        Joe said | May 18th 2018 @ 10:10am | ! Report

        I like the comparison to Federer. You’re right they’re both not built in the traditional moulds of their spot. I don’t watch much tennis but can watch Federer. When the players were going power game and athletic he used skill and technical ability to bridge the physical gap.

      • May 18th 2018 @ 5:21pm
        Kangajets said | May 18th 2018 @ 5:21pm | ! Report

        Federer is all class

        There is no comparison

        Federer is the best ever at his sport and is an absolute gentleman of human.. Cam Smith is neither

    • May 18th 2018 @ 8:23am
      G said | May 18th 2018 @ 8:23am | ! Report

      He’s not even the biggest grub in his team!

      • May 18th 2018 @ 3:52pm
        Peter Phelps said | May 18th 2018 @ 3:52pm | ! Report

        People who say that Cameron Smith is a grub tend to say Paul Gallen is a saint in the very next breath!

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