On the Road: Pritchard 2, Graham 0
The great thing about this job, dear reader, is its capacity to surprise – even after 25 years.
Take the other night.
Your correspondent was loitering in a stadium tunnel, killing time before the start of a media conference, when a follicularly-challenged fellow walked around the corner holding a football in a Perspex case, all on his own.
“G’day mate,” I said. “G’day Steve,” he replied. After a couple of steps, he turned around and said “four o’clock tomorrow, right?”. “Yeah” I said, only half paying attention.
It was only the next day I realised what had really occurred. The bloke in question had just been presented with the football by David Gallop, a guard of honour had been formed by both teams, and he had marched down the tunnel, cheered by 25,000 people, alone aside from television cameras and maybe a million viewers following him.
And what was Darren Lockyer’s reward at the end of the tunnel after 350 first grade games, with all the blood and broken bones that entails? Having a bloke in dirty red Converse, ill-fitting jeans, a $12 business shirt from Lowes and a blazer with two buttons missing say “g’day mate”.
Why would anyone else ever want to play 350 games if that’s what awaits? I am told this low point in Australian sporting history was captured on television.
I’ll never watch it. I suspect Darren will hit ‘stop’ just as he leaves the playing arena.
Then there was Monday night, out in the middle of Toyota Stadium. Hoping not to be recognised as the bloke at the end of the tunnel from three days before, your emissary was looking for someone to interview after Canterbury’s 19-12 win over Cronulla.
Not far away, he spied a strange site. Two men embracing – and staying embraced, while everyone else on the field was pausing only briefly to shake hands with an opponent before moving on.
In fact, it seemed that Canterbury’s Frank Pritchard and Cronulla’s Wade Graham would stay attached so long, and so closely, that I would not be able to squeeze a microphone between them.
This, despite the fact that – ahem – Pritchard had an hour earlier left Graham bleeding profusely from the nose with a shoulder charge that left the New Zealand “enforcer” on report.
When Frank finally let go of his former Penrith team-mate, yours truly asked him for an interview. He looked towards Graham. The light bulb atop my head flickered, albeit very slowly, to life.
Why not interview victim and assailant, together! Has that even been done on A Current Affair, let alone Triple M Monday Night Football?
“Oi, brother, come here!” said Pritchard, loving the idea.
Here’s how it went.
On The Road: Frank, what happened?
Pritchard (looking towards Graham): “It’s just a fairy tap brother, eh? Just a fairy tap, bro!”
On The Road: What are your recollections, Wade?
Graham: Not to much, mate. I remember when I first f---kin’ .. my first year (at Penrith) – sorry mate – at training, Franky actually knocked me out. So it’s Franky two, me nil at the moment.”
On The Road: You played a lot of footy together, didn’t you?
Pritchard: “Yeah, last year I played with Wado, played outside him. I know how he defends and attacks. I just kept to his inside. I’m surprised he threw the dummy. I thought he was going to throw the ball. First and foremost, I was just checking to see if he was alright. Safety first. He’s my brother. I didn’t rattle any of the brain cells so that’s a good thing.”
(Does that mean Frank was planning to take Graham out even if he didn’t have the ball? Let’s not go there...)
How many other jobs can offer you such a banquet of the unexpected? Even being an astronaut would be predictable and banal by comparison.
Before I end this admittedly self-indulgent, gonzo-journalistic column, I should explain what Locky was referring to when he said "four o’clock?". It was our pre-arranged phone interview the next day.
Think about it: 15 minutes beforehand he had broken a 103-year-old record in the world’s toughest professional sporting competition. And he thinks to confirm a phone interview the next day, Perspex still under his arm, steam still rising from a sodden jumper.
With focus like that, it’s a wonder he’s not planning to play another 350.