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In Touch: NRL needs to harness 'Mum power'

Leila McKinnon NRL.com Tue, Aug 23, 2011 - 10:30 AM

Issac Luke says his mum always brings him back down to earth. Copyright: NRL Photos

When a player needs a wake-up call who is he most likely to listen to? Is it: a) his coach; b) his manager; c) his club chairman; or d) none of the above?

Coaches can inspire players and help them become faster, stronger, more skilled or more tactical. Managers can make them a lot of money, and club chairmen can buy or sell them. But there's often only one person who can make a young NRL star see sense - and that's his mum.

Take, for example, the controversial case of Issac Luke and his recent "Academy Award" attempt. In the climactic scene of the Rabbitohs/Cowboys thriller last weekend Luke lingered a little too long on the ground at a crucial moment.

Depending on how you look at it and who you support, he'd been "love tapped", struck, or smashed in the face by Cowboys replacement hooker James Segevaro.

His apparent inability to get up meant the incident went to the video referee, which led to a penalty kick in extra time, victory to the Rabbitohs, and a howling chorus of disgust from just about anyone not wearing red and green.

But amid all the fury and the allegations of being a "diver" and a "cheat", Luke shrugged, saying, "I just laugh it off … I tried to get up, I ended up getting up, spat my mouth guard out and it was all red".

Only his mum Sharron got him to concede there was a little bit of Hollywood about that incident, and even to hang his head with a touch of shame.

"She said, 'I didn't know you were Russell Crowe's nephew,'" Luke said.

"It was a bit staged that one. My mum and I, we watched it after and I looked at my mum and I put my head down, and she was just laughing her head off.

"She told me I was a bit of an actor. She's always been like that; even if I am playing well she always brings me back down to earth."

My favourite motherly intervention was back in 2004, when big bad Willie Mason's mum Sonya made a public plea for her little boy to become a man.

Plastered all over the back page of the Daily Telegraph newspaper was the headline "Bubba, it's time to grow up".

After a season in which he was fined a total of $41,000 for all sorts of transgressions, she told Barry Toohey: "I spoke to him on Saturday and said to him, 'Cut out the booze. No more drinking and become a man instead of a little boy'.

"I call him Bubba – have done since he was born – but maybe I'll have to stop now. He has to grow up and do the right thing."

Maybe Mrs Mason made her plea a little late.

But Nathan Hindmarsh's mum succeeded where the sin bin failed.

In April, Hindy uncharacteristically threw a couple of punches at a mouthy Michael Ennis, a move that ultimately gave Ennis's Bulldogs room to score a couple of tries and win the game.

He was unrepentant until Mum stepped in.

"To get the phone call to say she was disappointed, it made me think about it a lot more than I'd already thought about it," he said.

"... I let him get under my skin and I retaliated in the wrong way, instead of hitting him in a good, nice solid tackle, I've gone out throwing punches."

Then there's Mele Hopoate's secret potion. She made it for her son John's Sea Eagles, and brought it back for the team when her grandson Will followed in Dad's footsteps.

"I came down for a Christmas training session last year and let the boys have some, but I told them that the next time they would be allowed some was after a win," Mrs Hopoate said.

The delicious pineapple, watermelon and coconut concoction doesn't get splashed around, it has to be earned.

"I don't do it for a loss … having this drink is like a reward."

No juice for the Panthers' Luke Lewis, but plenty of honesty and a whole lot of feedback.

He told The Sydney Morning Herald his mum Sharon gives him signals from the stands if he needs to lift his game.

"We have a sign language thing during a match that lets me know how I'm going," he said.

"Mum has seen almost every match I've played since the under-6s with Lalor Park, and when I was at primary school she'd leave work during her lunch hour to watch me play, so she knows my game really well and tells it as it is."

The power of these mums is not being fully harnessed by the NRL. Perhaps a mum could join the video ref to look for players milking penalties.

And alongside trainers, mums could run on to the field to give their boys some honest feedback.

Maybe instead of a sin bin, we could have a player's mother waiting to sternly say his full name and shake her head.

I can hear it now: "Nathan WILLIAM Hindmarsh what were you thinking? I want you to take a good hard look at yourself."