My A to Z of the NRL

(Appeared in League Week, Issue 10 April 2002, Page 26)



A word all teams fear, but also a word that has become part and parcel of modern-day rugby league. If clubs in today'’ NRL wish to avoid it, then marketing, administration and a steady infrastructure must all be applied on a constant and progressive basis.


Two words that have a very big bearing on this year’s Telstra Cup. Despite their shaky start, the Bulldogs still have what I believe to be a team that can go all the way... under one proviso: Braith Anasta has to forget newspaper and TV reports about all this second-year syndrome hype. The kid has the goods, no two ways about it, and if he remains fit and healthy, the two Bs will go a long way this year.


One notable omission from our great game as it enters the 21st Century is the slow killing off of colourful characters. Don’t get me wrong; today’s gladiators are fitter and more professional. But I also feel today’s player is a lot more reluctant to call a spade a spade, which means interviews and quotes are all very generic.

D is for DRAFT

Does our game need one? Who can say, but with the present status quo there is a definite gap starting to emerge between our top and bottom clubs.

E is for EAGLES

Even at this early stage of the year, doubts and aspersions have been cast as to what the Eagles’ future will be and where it lies. Certainly not on the Central Coast, one would think.

F is for FANS

Where would we be without them? Sure, some team followers are a lot more passionate than others – and even, at times, more reckless – but at the end of the day they are what keeps this game alive. More attention should be paid to their thoughts and wishes.

G is for GALLOP

He cam from within to win one of the hardest jobs in the land. NRL CEO David Gallop is an astute fellow who seems to have only one thing on this mind – the success of rugby league – and it’s this tunnel vision that will see the national comp become the dominant force it once was. (Footnote: No Tour de France. Ha ha).


If any team thinks they can win the comp without winning at least 75 per cent of their home games this year, then they must be hallucinating.


The one thing that separates the good from the extremely good footballer is instinct. The cream of the crop never hesitates when it comes down to making that split-second decision: "Should I follow my gut feeling or not?" Nine times out of 10, it will pay off handsomely for the player and his team, but self-belief is a must. It’s also a weapon most footballers should use more often.

J is for JOEY

The best player in the NRL – and indeed, the world. How he handles the "fishbowl" effect will go a long way to deciding just how "immortal" – or mortal – he is.

K is for KIDS

When I was selling sportswear immediately following my retirement, I was amazed at just how many players and development officers from other codes were visiting our schools on a regular basis. The NRL and the clubs have to realise that the more our kids see their heros in their schools, the more they want to be just like them.


A word we don’t want to hear too often when it comes to game postmortems.


Depending on what percentage they take off you, they are a necessity in today’s climate. Picking the right one – a bloke who can cater to all your personal, financial and superficial needs – is the hardest decision any footballer can make. Chose the wrong one and it could mean a lot of sleepless nights.


I know TV networks will argue the case for this, but it just doesn’t seem to have that same in-your-face intensity as a daytime grand final.


Where many of our top-line players are heading at a much younger age than in years gone by. Obviously, the English pound is the lure, but upon arrival in the north of England, most players have strong second thoughts about what lies ahead and what they’ve left behind in Australia.

P is for PARENTS

Every footballer – or at least 99 percent of them – will tell you they wouldn’t be where they are today without the unconditional love, help and guidance of their parents. From driving five hours to a trial match in the bush to being a much-needed corridor of advice when things aren’t going so well, parents hold a very key role when it comes to developing the modern day footballer.


Who can ever forget Billy Moore’s famous war cry? Who could ever have forecast the huge impact State Of Origin football would have? This year’s S.O.O. shapes as one of the most intriguing series in years. Will Alfie come back again and repeat his feats of last year for Queensland? Will having Phil Gould back at the helm of the NSW side prove just too big a hurdle for the cane toads? How big a loss will Freddie Fittler be? Will he be a loss at all or will he do an Alfie and come out of representative retirement for a triumphant Blues win? The goose bumps have started already!


The blokes we all love to hate. It’s a thankless job, whichever way you look at it. They’re damned if they do, and they’re damned if they don’t. I never really got on with refs (OOOOH, REALLY?) but I have always respected and admired the way they approach their chosen profession. Referees, like players, have come a long way in the last decade. Now they’re employed full-time – and some are even making Lowes commercials (Billeeee).


What else needs to be said?

T is for TRIALS

A necessary evil. They start and set the momentum that intensifies as the season evolves. Panthers top guns "Girds" [Ryan Girdler] and "Gowie" [Craig Gower] showed just how important at least one trial run is when they came out against a fully "trialled-up" Parra side in the opening round in scorching 40-degree heat. Gowie later told me: "It was the first time I thought I would pass out in a footy game".

U is for UTILITY

A vital asset to any team is that player who can slot in basically anywhere the coach puts him. Jason Hooper (Dragons), Daniel Wagon (Eels), Craig Wing (Roosters) and even little Preston Campbell (Sharks) could all be considered utilities. And to their teams, they’re all worth their weight in gold.


"V" might be a hard letter to marry with any football term, but the one "V" that does stand out is David Vaealiki from the Parramatta Eels. His transformation in the last 12 months from an awkward full-back to a bull-dozing centre means he should continue to shine in international footy. He is Mal Meninga and Gene Miles rolled into one. Well... he could be.


Created quite a STORM last year with their TIGERISH new approach, BULLDOGGING their way into the top eight with the bravado of a great western COWBOY. With forwards like rampaging BRONCOS and backs as slippery as EELS, they look set for another RAID on this year’s premiership. Their season hinges on their crafty PANTHER of a coach, Daniel Anderson, who seems to be a breath of fresh air in the land of the long white cloud. (Work that one out.)

X is for X FACTOR

Every team needs one. Has every team got one? Only time will tell.

Y is for YOUTH

That’s the approach the Dragons have taken this year, with their average first-grader being a mere 22.5 years old. It’s extraordinary.

Z is for ZERO

Zero tolerance for all drug takers.