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Opinion

Who are we hiring - and firing - for the best rugby league TV coverage possible?

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Expert
28th October, 2020
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After the Melbourne Storm’s victory over the Penrith Panthers in the NRL Grand Final on Sunday night, it was unfortunate that a significant chunk of the chatter was dedicated to the commentary of the game – specifically Gus Gould’s – rather than the game itself.

It wouldn’t really be rugby league unless there was some type of controversy that overshadowed proceedings, and the latest drama was over Gould’s perceived bias towards Penrith, and against Melbourne, as he called the premiership decider for Channel 9.

I’m not overly enthusiastic to dedicate any further oxygen to that story, but I do think Gus could have chosen his words a bit more carefully when he said Penrith were “on top”, despite being down 16 points to zero.

Given the fact everyone knows he was recently the boss at Penrith, the optics of him being “friendly” to a team that was well behind on the scoreboard were . . . well, sub-optimal.

When Gould doubled down on his viewpoint after the game, it only angered people more, but the post-match rage from fans across the country (well, eastern seaboard anyway) actually took me to a slightly different place, and on another tangent: it forced me to think about what my ‘Dream Team’ would be for the TV coverage of rugby league in Australia.

While pondering such a hypothetical, it became clear to me that it’s not just about on-air talent, it’s about the overall content as well. So below is the perfect package on my imaginary rugby league channel:

Commentary teams
Team A
• Play-by-play announcer: Andrew Voss
• ‘Colour’ analyst: Greg Alexander
• Sideline: Hannah Hollis

Team B
• Play-by-play announcer: Warren Smith
• ‘Colour’ analyst: Andrew Johns
• Sideline: Brad Fittler

Now, you actually need more than two commentary teams with the travel required for eight games per round, but I’ll keep it simple for the purposes of this discussion.

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I think Voss and Smith are the two best callers, and pick themselves. I could easily be talked into Ray Warren replacing Smith, as I still think he’s great, but I did have one eye on the future, and I’m unaware of how many more years Rabs is keen to keep going,

From an in-game analyst perspective, ‘Brandy’ is the best. Smart, articulate, sharp and with no agendas and BS, he’s a joy to listen to. Meanwhile, when Joey sticks to the footy and doesn’t try to be sensationalistic, he’s brilliant. I often think he’s too influenced by those around him, so I’m keen to break that up.

Andrew Johns smiles as he's presented to Newcastle fans in 2017

Andrew Johns (Tony Feder/Getty Images)

On the sidelines, Hollis really knows her stuff and is a true professional. She’s great down on the pitch, but should also be groomed for a larger role.

Fittler’s chemistry with Joey is undeniable, and it’s also clear players and coaches respect him too, so he’s an obvious candidate for interviews pre-game, plus half and full-time.

Studio team
Here we need a host and three analysts to provide a solid mix of personality and intellect, so I’m going with:
• Yvonne O’Keefe
• Cooper Cronk
• Peter Sterling
• Michael Ennis

O’Keefe is an unbelievable host. I don’t think people truly realise how hard that job is, but she keeps things moving at just the right pace, and ensures the analysts all get their say at the exact right time.

And we’ve got three good ones here in Cronk, Sterling and Ennis – smart, knowledgeable and with the ability to have opinions without agendas, and without bombastic yelling.

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Nightly News Show (Monday to Thursday)
• Lara Pitt
• Andrew Webster
• Plus a range of guests each night

These might be the hardest roles to fill. The host needs to be a rational and sensible professional who ensures the trending topics are covered with strong opinions (including their own), but without the discussion disintegrating into a hot take circus.

And their offsider needs to be unafraid of saying something unpopular, but without resorting to acting like – quite frankly – a dickhead. Pitt and Webby get first go here, and I think they’ll do a great job, but the casting for this one is definitely the trickiest.

‘Lighter’ Studio Show
This show can still tackle the big topics and games, but shouldn’t take itself too seriously, and allow players/guests to come on and enjoy themselves. The Matty Johns Show is just about perfect as it is, so that team should just keep doing do their thing.

Pure Analysis Show
I’m salivating at the prospect of a ‘pure analysis’ show every Wednesday night that expertly breaks down the game, and educates fans on the nuances of tactics, coaching and skill.

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Getting a rotating cast of footy’s best brains solely focussed on the intricacies of rugby league, and nothing else, is exactly what the code needs. Can we just make this one happen now, please?
• Peter Sterling
• Cooper Cronk
• Andrew Johns
• Cam Smith
• Greg Alexander
• Gus Gould
• Trent Robinson (plus any and all head coaches)

Hard-Hitting Interview Show
If you want someone who doesn’t care about being popular, will ask the tough questions, and knows more about football – both on the field, and running a team – than almost anyone on the planet, there’s really one person for the job here.

He may have lost his magic in the commentary booth some years ago, but we’ve come full circle. Admit it, he’d been pretty interesting in this role:
• Gus Gould

Phil Gould talks with Peter Wallace on the field.

Phil Gould. (Photo: Tony Feder/Getty Images)

So that’s my team, but I fully admit such things are subjective and we all have our own acquired tastes. I’m also cognisant that I may be overlooking someone talented and obvious who deserves a gig, so by all means correct with me with your own rugby league TV ‘Dream Team’.