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The NRL needs a festival of footy to celebrate its true artists

Noel Kelly, a rugby league legend for the Western Suburbs Magpies. (Image: Creative Commons By https://www.flickr.com/photos/naparazzi/ - https://www.flickr.com/photos/naparazzi/15335383321/in/album-72157606542658724/, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Roar Pro
22nd May, 2018
3

Once upon a time – when men were men, scrums were scrums, and props served an apprenticeship that virtually lasted until they were 30 – giants walked the Earth.

Men like Ian Walsh, Billy Rayner, Ross Warner and Clarrie Jeffries.

These skilled tradesmen – some might say artists – were hookers.

How those men who remain must have wept when they saw the ultimate insult last weekend, against the scrums that were their domain – those edifices they once so nobly inhabited.

South Sydney centre Dane Gagai lent in a scrum as a prop – a centre masquerading as a prop – so a front-rower could charge onto the ball when the alleged scrum was won.

How they must have rejoiced on the same weekend when there was a genuine scrum win against the feed, a sight not seen in seeming decades, and once considered the ultimate achievement of the trade-art.

Well, it’s time to insult their memory no more.

Cameron Smith may be a great player, but a hooker he ain’t – and it’s time to stop insulting the memory of those who were by calling him one.

Smith is a No.9s or dummy half.

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We now have the Immortals, a Hall of Fame, a Team of the Century.

Wouldn’t it be fun, just once, to celebrate the tradesmen-artists with a memorial pre-season round featuring proper scrums, where No.9s have to hook, front-rowers have to prop, and back-rowers have to push?

The novelty would produce a different game and it would be fresher than staid ideas like the Auckland Nines. All NRL teams could feature in shortened knockout games over two weekends, with a grand final on a Sunday afternoon.

There would be risks, of course – players might face greater injury concerns than being on the end of a demonic Dylan Napa attack.

Gym junkies today’s forwards may be, but they’d be using neck and shoulder muscles they’d never worked out before – but hey, no one would lose an eye.

And you wouldn’t have to worry about restricting replacements to open up the game, as tired forwards would provide plenty of space.

The great Noel Kelly was chosen as hooker in the Australian team of the century. Many of his great contemporaries have passed on; England and Cronulla’s Cliff Watson died a few weeks back, but thankfully the now-octogenarian Kelly is still with us.

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He’d be the only man to present the trophy after a weekend of fun, excitement and mayhem after the band played ‘Thanks for the Memories’.

And a young fan might leave the ground and say to his father or grandfather, “Now I know why they called it the greatest game of all.”