PM cops a volley
There was an interesting moment on television at the Australian Open in January when Scott Morrison turned up at centre court for the last 10 minutes of Ash Barty’s match, which she won to reach the quarter-finals.
The crowd, as they say in the classics, went wild.
“Booooo! Booooooo! BOOOOOO!”
John McEnroe, bemused: “Why is the crowd booing?”
Todd Woodbridge: “That’s our Prime Minister, mate.”
McEnroe, a little stunned: “OK . . .”
The next day, the PM tried to explain it: “It’s a great tradition. I would be disappointed if they didn’t. Bob Hawke and everyone else got the same treatment at games.”
Certainly many prime ministers have, but readers agreed with me that Hawke was more mobbed than booed.
Roosters pay respects
In February, your humble correspondent was invited by Roosters coach Trent Robinson to address his premiership-winning players before they departed for the World Club Championship in England. They were due to stop off at that sacred site for Australians and Kiwis overseas which is Villers-Bretonneux in France, the epicentre of where the Diggers fought in World War One with such distinction.
Having written a book on the subject of the Diggers’ battle at Villers-Bretonneux, I was delighted to accept the invitation, and visited the Roosters’ training headquarters in the bowels of the SCG.
I’m happy to say they listened intently for 45 minutes or so, with nary a peep, and upon their return from Europe, Robinson called me with the upshot. The Roosters spent a moving day at Villers-Bretonneux and adjacent battlefields. Each member of the touring party, including Robinson, had researched a member of their family, or a resident of their hometown, or a rugby league player who had fallen, and made presentations to the group about their story. Tears were shed, and the group grew closer, as the contours of the catastrophe sunk in. At Fromelles, 7000 Diggers were sent forward in bright sunshine, across flat swampy ground, with no cover, at German machine guns as far as 400 yards away. In the next 14 hours, more than 5000 Diggers were cut down, of whom 1900 were killed. They never had a chance.
The most moving episode of the day, Robinson told me, was what happened when they arrived at the New Zealand Memorial, which honours the 13,000 Kiwis killed there, a terrible toll from the 100,000 who served from a population of a million.
Having recounted the stories of six of them, the mood of the Kiwi footballers was heavy as they laid wreaths at the monument’s base. So hard they fought, so young they died.
And now it happens.
On the spot, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves crouches before the memorial, and lets out a guttural cry. Instantly, the five other Kiwis with the Roosters crouch into the same stance and repeat it. Waerea-Hargreaves leads on and, in short order, all together, they are in full cry. “Ka mate, ka mate! ka ora! ka ora! Ka mate! ka mate! ka ora! ka ora! Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru.”
The full-blown haka is under way, ringing around the memorial, across the heads of their fellow Roosters – who stand respectfully, heads bowed – and all way to the graveyards themselves. If there was a cry to wake the dead, or at least honour them, this was it.
“It was chilling,” Robinson said. “Usually after a haka, there is a fire in the spirit, but not this time. No one spoke. We filed onto the bus in complete silence. Not a word was spoken till we got out at the next stop.”
From little things
Ain’t sport grand?
In 2008, the NSW under-12s rugby league team headed to Darwin for the week-long national carnival. As is the way of such things, they all flew there on the same jet, they started splitting up at the airport and, if their parents had made the trip, they went off with them – or otherwise with local billets who were waiting.
The boys were excited as they splintered off.
See ya! See ya! Nice to meet you. Thanks for having me. See ya! Once at Darwin airport, the team gradually dissipated as parents and host families collected the boys and set off home, before meeting for training the next day.
With only a few of the boys left at the airport, the coaching staff realised a quiet young Balmain junior was sitting alone looking sheepishly at the arrivals door. He was a big kid, a front-rower only 11 years old, who was expecting his dad to meet him and take him to a hotel. Alas, his father missed his flight. So up stepped the team captain, a good style of kid, a little halfback from Cronulla. He and his mum organised an extra bed in their hotel room and looked after him until his father arrived the next day. On a Saturday evening in February, up Mudgee way, 11 years after the Darwin episode, that front-rower Tevita “Junior” Tatola and the halfback Connor Tracey lined up next to each other as teammates for the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Scandals linked to drink
On a Friday earlier this year, when news of an “alleged incident” involving Ben Barba was broken by Danny Weidler – who went on to say it would likely end his career – I put on Twitter: “I know nothing at all of this episode. But I will take a punt. I bet there will be excess consumption of something involved. And likely not the drug he was previously suspended for taking. Perhaps excess of the sponsor’s product? We’ll see.”
Sadly, I was right, with reports emerging that Barba had been drinking for seven solid hours. And no, of course drinking too much grog does not excuse his behaviour to his partner – nothing can. But can we at least note that throughout that entire off-season of rugby league atrocities, which set post-war records for ugliness, every single episode had drunkenness as a foundation. I note again, the absurdity of the NRL descending like the hammers of hell on recreational drugs when there is little evidence they have caused any problems, instead of focusing the players’ attention on the key fact. That is, when players get drunk they put their whole careers and lives in danger – and risk trashing the lives of others.
What they said
Then NSW opposition leader Michael Daley on a Tuesday morning in March, to Alan Jones, who is on the SCG Trust: “If I’m elected the board will go, I want a new broom through, I know you’ve been on that board for 30 years . . . but the board will go, it will be sacked . . . Thanks for your service.” Oh, how the people cheered. Well, maybe 48 per cent of them did.
Alan Jones on ABC’s 7.30. “We’ve long been concerned about the safety of the stadium.” Really, Alan? Why then, as Michael Daley pointed out, does the last financial report of the SCG Trust have $12 million spent tarting up private suites, and NOTHING on safety?
An NFL fan, on why he was one of a crowd taking selfies outside the Florida massage parlour where the owner of the Boston Partiots, Robert Kraft, was arrested in February: “I can’t believe how many morons like me are here taking a picture. Now this place is a historical site, it’s a tourist attraction — everyone wants a picture.”
Daly Cherry-Evans on rugby league players: “We are rugby league players but we are human beings as well and we do make mistakes like everyone else.” Is it me, or is that a strange mindset? Sort of like, even though we are superheroes, we have flaws? I am a sportswriter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I am a dickhead!
Chris Gayle: “I don’t know who is opening the bowling [for England] but any bowler is going to be wary of Chris Gayle. That doesn’t change because he is 39 now. They are going to be saying: ‘Yes, he’s got some grey hairs in his beard. Let’s get him now. This is the perfect time to get the universe boss now he is 39’.” Either that, Chris, or they’ll be saying “Did you hear what that wanker said this time?”
Gayle goes on: “I’m the greatest player in the world. Of course. I can’t complain. T20s, ODIs, Tests . . . you’re looking at a great man.”
Commentator Jess Dweck tweets, after a very dull first half of the Super Bowl: “These teams are playing like they know whoever wins goes to the White House.”
American journalist Amber Tamblyn, during the Super Bowl, tweets in reference to Colin Kaepernick: “Hi there while you’re enjoying this mediocre Maroon 5 halftime please remember a football legend was blacklisted from this entire sport for merely putting his knee on the ground in protest of black people being murdered. Enjoy your pop music.”
Patriots safety Duron Harmon said he had no interest in visiting the White House to see Donald Trump, before fastening on who he really wanted to meet: “Hey, Obama, come holler at me. We love you over here, man!”
Australian refugee and soccer player Hakeem al-Araibi speaking in a Thai prison cell – where he was outrageously detained while Bahrain tried to have Thailand extradite him – to the Herald’s James Massola: “Please Australia, keep fighting for me. I pay taxes, I play football, I love Australia. Please don’t let them send me back to Bahrain.” Australia, led by the admirable Craig Foster, got on it and Hakeem was freed to return home, and become an Australian citizen.
AFLW star Darcy Vescio tweets to Tony Jones, after the Channel Nine commentator asked the victorious Naomi Osaka, in rather patronising fashion, how she could possibly carry such a big trophy as the one she had just been handed for winning the Australian Open: “Tone, she could bench-press you.”
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to his wide receiver, Chris Hogan, still on the field after their victory over the Chiefs sends them to the Super Bowl. “I’m too old. You’re too slow. We’ve got no skill players. We’ve got no defence. We’ve got nothin’. [F—] that! Love you, man.”
Team of the year
Ash Barty. She had the season to be jolly. After making it to the round of eight at the Australian Open, she went on to win the French Open and finish the year as world No.1.
Tom Brady. The NFL quarterback who guided the Patriots to the Super Bowl is 41 years old, and has been playing in the NFL for 19 years!
Peter Beattie. The outgoing – in both senses of the word – NRL chair took the lead in sorting out what needs to be done to clean up the game.
RIP Les Carlyon 1942-2019. The great journalist and author, very kind to your correspondent when I was starting out, passed away in March aged 76. Vale Les, great man.
Nick Kyrgios. Beat Rafael Nadal in the Mexico Open, 3-6, 7-6 , 7-6 – which included winning five points straight after being down 3-6 in the deciding tie-breaker. Maybe next year, he will be able to achieve the key part of greatness he needs to complete his puzzle: consistency.
Craig Foster. The former Socceroo and now commentator led the charge to #SaveHakeem. (See item.)
Peter FitzSimons is a journalist and columnist with The Sydney Morning Herald.