Coach's Box: Right call was made on Thurston
With the Origin Series decider less than two weeks away, you can be guaranteed this weekend’s round of games will throw up something to add to the mystique and intrigue of what has been a great series so far.
Whether it is an injury or suspension, something is bound to happen - but let’s hope it is not as disruptive as the Johnathan Thurston charge during the week for his contact with the referee from last weekend’s match against the Warriors.
It was good to see that justice was delivered when he was cleared of the charge in Sydney on Wednesday night, and not just because I would like to see him play in Origin III.
Even a New South Welshman (like myself) could see it was an accident. Collisions happen in our game and even more so now there are two referees.
I know Johnathan Thurston personally (as his former Cowboys coach) and he’s the last person who would do that. This is the same guy who gives away his kicking tee to a fan after every game.
He has respect for everyone from kids and parents to referees. He would not have deliberately made contact with a referee.
He is such a fierce competitor that he would have been so focused on trying to stop the opposition from scoring. You can see from replays that his line of sight is on the guy with the ball.
I’ve coached him; he reads the play so well. I would often wonder ‘how did he do that?’, when he would just turn up and dive on potential tries and save the moment.
It was a very disruptive exercise for Johnathan and the Cowboys for their preparation to play the Panthers at Penrith this Sunday, but ultimately it may serve as a reminder to all players that they will come under scrutiny if they make contact with a ref.
At the end of the day, if someone deliberately runs into an official they should be rubbed out of the game … throw the book at them. We do have to protect the refs.
While Origin will be on the minds of most people this weekend with NSW naming their team on Sunday and Queensland on Tuesday, this weekend’s full round is also significant for the unsung heroes of the game … women.
It is the Harvey Norman Women In League Round, which I think is a great concept to recognise the involvement of women in all levels of the game.
While I have coached men at the elite level of rugby league in State of Origin and NRL football, I have been very fortunate to also have the opportunity to coach women at the top level, having been appointed as the Jillaroos (Australian women’s rugby league) coach last year.
I am really impressed at the skill level of the girls. Anyone who sees a game of women’s rugby league is immediately impressed with their ability and skill level and the intensity they play at.
It’s quite amazing. I was surprised particularly with them running good lines, reading the play and their ability to put people in the gaps. And the biggest thing I found, compared with training males, is that they are attentive.
But it’s more than listening; they take in what you are saying intently. It’s like when I used to coach a junior boys football team when I was playing second grade for Parramatta … I could have said anything; they would listen.
The girls are so respectful and keen to learn. They switch on straight away. Sometimes with the men you have to crack the whip to get them to listen.
Before coaching the women, I also saw how many women were involved with the game as volunteers when I worked at the Cowboys.
It really gives you an appreciation of just how many women across the country are involved. There’s thousands of them driving the kids to training and games; and working in the canteens and behind the scenes with the local clubs; as well as working professionally in the clubs, coaching, refereeing and playing.
Without women in volunteer roles, rugby league - and all sports for that matter - would not be able to operate.
I have been married for 26 years and my wife Amanda is not a fanatical rugby league person but she is a fan. But she has taken an interest in my ‘job’ over the years and has become a really good judge of football.
It really helps the players (and coaches) if their partner takes an interest. In our 26 years of marriage we have lived in 23 different houses, moving around a lot because of my football career.
Every time we went to a new club one thing she has always did really well was to try to make all the women feel special at the beginning of the season. She would organise a get-together with the player’s partners so they could get to know one another.
As the Cowboys’ Kevin Campion used to always say, "happy wife, happy life" … and it certainly helped the players if their partner’s felt like they were part of it.
That’s one of the things I really loved about Amanda’s involvement. She made the girls feel good about going to footy and they felt good about the club. That creates a good atmosphere.
When I was at the Steelers, their motto was "my team; my club". Women play a massive role in shaping players … it’s important they feel part of the ‘team’.