When the Rugby League International Federation awarded Englishman Tommy Makinson the Golden Boot this week, there was plenty of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Brad Fittler led the outcry, branding Makinson’s achievement “ridiculous”.
“It belittles the award,” Fittler told NSWRL.
“I can’t believe the best player in the world is a person I’ve never seen play.”
A damning assessment from the man who took out the top gong in 2000. Except instead of questioning “Who’s Tommy Makinson”, perhaps Freddy should have been asking “What’s the Golden Boot?”
Because Freddy didn’t win the same award that Makinson won. Not really.
While it’s still the most prestigious trophy they hand out, the RLIF recently changed the eligibility for the Golden Boot.
No longer is it awarded to the player deemed to have been the best in the world for the past 12 months – as it was for most of its lifetime.
Instead, according to the RLIF, this year’s Boot “recognises the very best performances in international rugby league in the period including and from the final of RLWC2017 up to the recent second international game between England and New Zealand.”
So it doesn’t go to the best player in the world, but rather to the player who turned out the best performances in Test matches during the eligibility period.
Still, doesn’t that mean it automatically goes to James Tedesco? Due respect to the other three, but he runs circles around them as a player – as evidenced by the fact he was an out-and-out star in teams that won an Origin series and a grand final this year.
And it was the Blues’ custodian’s snubbing that prompted Fittler’s outburst, the NSW coach calling Tedesco “a standout”.
“James Tedesco was a bit unlucky. He won the Origin, he was the best player in Origin. Oh no, he wasn’t, Billy Slater was,” Fittler joked.
Ah, you laugh Brad, but were Teddy to have taken out the Golden Boot, there would have been plenty of ammunition for those who wish you’d shut up about Slater being declared man of the series for Origin 2018.
Because during the Golden Boot eligibility period, Tedesco played a grand total of two games and lost one of them.
Despite his superstar status, Teddy has spent most of his international rep career playing for Italy, because that same Billy Slater had a well-earned mortgage on the Kangaroos’ No.1 jersey.
As a result, the former Tiger made his Australian debut last month, as he and his teammates went down to a resurgent New Zealand. Teddy did himself proud that night, scoring a late try to help threaten an unlikely comeback, but he wasn’t the story of the evening against the dominant Kiwis.
The following week, against the Mate Ma’a, Tedesco was the headline story – well, apart from the amazing Tongan crowd – as he was named man of the match.
But isn’t that kinda, sorta exactly how Slater’s Origin series played out – a great game in a losing effort, brilliant performance in a consolation win?
More to the point, to be named the best international player in the world over a period of time that took in four games for most teams, and ended in early November, doesn’t logic suggest you’d feature in more than two matches – and for the first of them to have occurred earlier than mid-October?
For his part, Makinson featured in three games, all against the world No.2 Kiwis – a team that, again, the World Champion Aussies couldn’t defeat this year.
As for the Pommy winger’s performances? Well, I’ll defer to the RLIF, who said: “Makinson has produced three excellent displays, scoring tries in Denver and Liverpool, creating tries at Hull and throughout he has been immense in defence.”
Is it so crazy to suggest that maybe, in winning three games, Makinson made more of an impression than Tedesco did in two games in which he had a 50 per cent rate of victory?
You’ll notice I didn’t give my own two cents on Makinson’s efforts, because I didn’t really see them beyond the highlights. Sort of compromises my credibility to have an opinion, I’ll admit.
But then, Freddy didn’t watch them either.
“I watched the highlights of the England game yesterday and just saw him score a couple of tries,” Fittler said this week.
“That’s all I’ve ever seen of him and he’s the best player in the world? I find it ridiculous.”
Look, it’s not an unreasonable misunderstanding on Freddy’s part, as the change in eligibility took effect for this year. But surely a student of the game would have worked out that something wasn’t the same when the four players nominated for the shortlist were Makinson, Tedesco, Elliott Whitehead and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
None of those players featured in the top five of this year’s Dally M Awards, or the top three of the Super League’s Man of Steel.
And, while I’d gladly have him in my team’s pack, you can probably work out it’s not an award for the best player in the world if Whitehead makes the top four.
Ultimately, a panel of independent judges – including The Roar’s very own Steve Mascord – made the decision. And while I’m sure none of them would claim to know half as much as Brad Fittler when it comes to rugby league, the fact they actually watched all the eligible games puts them in a better position than the legendary five-eighth to make a call on who deserved the award.
And I’m willing to suggest they made the right call.