Apparently all the characters have disappeared from rugby league. Seriously?
Say what you like about the much maligned 13-man game, but one thing which can’t be disputed is that the per-capita rate of colourful identities out on the field has sky-rocketed in recent times.
Rugby league in its current form will be looked back upon by Generation Y in 20 years’ time as a golden age of characters in the same way people the age of your author reminisce about the Winfield Cup era of the 1980s and ‘90s.
Back then we had Sirro, Back-door Benny, Blocka, Mr Perpetual Motion, Brandy, Tunks, Turvey, The Falcon, Cement – and they were just the blokes with the cool nicknames. Every club, no matter who it was, seemed to have several players who stood out not just for the way they played the game, but for their character.
Conversely, the current crop of NRL first graders is accused of “lacking” character, personality, uniqueness. One common criticism is they’ve been media-trained to within an inch of losing their personalities altogether. But this way of thinking is easy to punch holes in.
When was the last time you saw a human being like James Graham take the field? The guy is famous for his furious temper, which he unleashes at team-mates, officials and the opposition at will. He’s a traumatising figure, but you won’t be forgetting him in a hurry, will you?
Mick Ennis is another one. I’ve interviewed him and seen him sit on panels on Fox Sports week in, week out. Seems like a lovely fellah. But the rest of the league community has other ideas, and that’s fine. Stir up a stadium full of Green Machine disciples with the very clap they use to show their support for their Raiders and you’ll attract controversy. Stir up an Eels great like Hindy and you’ll be called a grub – by everyone including Hindmarsh himself …
Paul Gallen’s another one, a magnificent villain for the game. It’s as if New South Wales is responding with its own “Wally” 20 years later.
Where would our news cycles be without Jarryd Hayne these days? Call him what you will - a dreamer, an overrated ex-NFL player, or one of the many other barbs which have been thrown his way - but one thing he ain’t is boring.
Sam Thaiday? The guy does “class clown” well, whether he is one or not. He’s fun. When the camera’s rolling after full-time, so is he.
Johnathan Thurston. The hero. The “Peter Sterling”, if you like, of the modern era. To the rescue. Loved by all. Skills galore. Tough, too. There has to be one rose among all those thorns, at least.
Cameron Smith: perfect, perfect Cameron Smith. But don’t you hate the way he’s always in the refs’ ears? Telling them how to … ref?
These are all popular perceptions, of course, but they’re fantastic for the sport. I’ve only skimmed the surface here, but our game is doing just fine in the character stakes. Why else would you be reading about rugby league just about every single day of the year? Off-season? There’s no such thing with this lot around.
Keep the characters coming, boys. We’re loving it.