The NRL Finals Week 2 teams are in, with South Sydney enjoying some fantastic news at the selection table ahead of their do-or-die semi-final with Manly.
So there we were, late Sunday afternoon, and the Canberra Raiders underlined their top-four credentials with a strong win over Penrith Panthers, who’d been coming off seven wins straight.
And there was plenty the game told us about the premiership aspirations of both sides, and that footy is best played in the daytime, as it’s been since day dot, so help us Lord Ted Goodwin.
Yet the newsy tidbit to come from the fixture was Fox Sports’s Andy Raymond revealing that Ivan Cleary had leaned out the tunnel and said something loudly to – or in the direction of – referee Ashley Klein.
Cleary was asked about it in the presser afterwards and said super-innocently that, “It was no big deal” and he was just trying to clarify something, presumably, “Ashley, for Christ’s sake, why the hell are you penalising us and not them?”.
Phil ‘Buzz’ Rothfield of the Daily Telegraph later revealed that Cleary said, “Ashley they’re f***ing lying all over us … You can’t let them. You’ve got to stop them”.
And then in a presser yesterday Cleary declared that quote a “complete fabrication”.
And you’d suggest that whoever told Rothfield what happened is going to get a call from Rothfield.
And that Andy Raymond would be a good source if you were looking for one.
Meanwhile, on Matt Johns’s podcast Cameron Smith would have us believe he doesn’t influence referees. He said – to our very faces! – that he has a laugh when people say he can influence referees.
Haha, said Smith, intimating that people would be silly to think that.
Then he explained exactly how he did influence referees, which is by planting an earworm if ever Storm suffers a run of penalties against.
That is what influencing a referee is. And Smith is the best at it in the game. Indeed he plays it like a game. And anyone who thinks he’s a grub for doing it is jealous because their team’s captain is not as good at doing it.
Maybe not a fact. But a truism. Something.
Regardless, there we were just after half-time and Andy Raymond gave us the scoop that Ivan Cleary had leaned around the corner and had words with Ashley Klein to the effect that Penrith required a fair suck of the souvlaki.
What did Ivan actually say? Andy could tell you. People will be after him soon for the mail given Buzz received one version and Ivan Cleary has another.
What did happen, in all likelihood, I betcha, is this: Panthers captain James Tamou and the ever-yappy Jimmy Maloney had been getting the word from the coaches box – read: Ivan – that they should question Klein on the field and thus inform the ref that the Raiders players were slowing down the ruck.
Like Smith’s earworms, it’s a tactic. Coaches do this, sent down earworms from the box.
I once sat in the coaches box with Souths coach Craig ‘Tugger’ Coleman. It was 2003 and the Bunnies were being towelled up by Brisbane. And our Tugger spent large parts of the 80 minutes saying, “Gedda message out”, “Gedda message out”. And some of the messages were for the captain – a second-rower called Andrew Hart – to question the referee about ruling X.
It didn’t matter that ruling X may have been perfectly correct. The questioning was the point. Get the seed in the mind of the adjudicator.
And our Smithy admitted to Matt Johns he planted ’em, right after saying he didn’t influence referees.
Then he shrugged, did that thing with his bottom lip: no big deal.
Which is a fair cop. They all do it. Legitimate tactic. Old refs know when it’s being bunged on. Play on.
Anyway, the two Jimmies couldn’t get through to Ash Klein at Penrith Park or whatever they’re calling the former stone quarry, so Ivan yelled something at Jimmy Tamou. Though here is the thing: presumably if he knew Tamou was talking to Klein, he knew that Klein was a good chance of hearing him.
That’s what happened. Bet: Ivan’s asked Tamou to ask Ashley while he was there talking to Tamou to please make the Raiders stop lying on our men in the tackle.
Betcha $50 that’s what happened. Whether the f-bomb landed, who knows, or cares – it’s only a word and dudes say em all the time on the telly past the kiddies’ bedtime.
But if Ivan’s asked for “clarification” from Jimmy, it’s while Ash Klein is so near he was bound to hear it.
And you would suggest Ivan – nice man that he is, never in 500 games has he even said a nasty thing about a referee once, why some of his best mates are referees – knew that.
Funny freakin’ game, rugby league.
You know what else is funny? Or not funny? Or something? It is this: imagine if it was the Raiders who were down at half-time and it was Ricky Stuart who was barking gibber in the vicinity of the referee?
Who said to Jarrod Croker, loud enough for Croker to hear and the referee, “Blah blah, get them off us, penalties, blah-blah”.
I mean, really – go on: imagine the legs that story would’ve grown.
Our Stick would’ve been just about fined out of his very existence. That’s a pretty heavy fine when the punishment is nothingness.
But no – because it was Nice Ivan and his dreamy eyes, it’s all good?
It’s similar to Cameron Smith and, say, let’s pick one at random – James Graham – and their approach to referees, and thus their resultant ‘sway’ with the men in pink.
Smith does it with a sly grin, a collegiate, jokey attitude. And he never raises his voice. And the referees, respected, have the brain seed that, why, that nice man Cameron has a point, I must do my best to square up this penalty count.
They don’t even know they’re doing it, that’s how deeply and well Smith can plant it.
Jimmy Graham, meanwhile, fronts them – or used to – like Craig Bellamy in cage, a great snorting Irish Viking fresh off the war boat.
He’s all spicks and specks of spittle, and referees, with some justification, are afraid, and like Christians in their monasteries, they…continue to penalise the angry Dragons.
That simile didn’t quite come off.
Regardless, Ivan Cleary was slapped with the wet lettuce leaf of reprimand and Ricky Stuart would not exist.
Not a fact. But it is a thing. And everyone should stop it at once.
Hypocrisy, of course, exists in most walks of life, not just this, our greatest game of all. But my – the game does it well.
Consider Saturday night in Melbourne and Manly’s Jake Trbojevic, who ripped off a flipping throw-tackle of sorts pretty much a facsimile of Nick Cotric’s from the other week.
Now, our Ricky and all those Raiders fans – and you can throw in the long-suffering consumers of the Once Were Warriors – are as prone to conspiracy theories as any of the league’s supporters.
And there is no conspiracy against the Canberra Raiders.
But come on, Eileen, Michael Buettner!
Trbojevic’s, Cotric’s Issac Luke’s tackles, one would warrant, were equally dangerous for the neck of their opponents.
Cotric: sent off, grade three dangerous throw, three weeks.
Luke: penalised, grade two dangerous throw, three weeks.
Trbojevic: penalised, grade one dangerous…nothin’.
Full of worms.