They don’t make grand final weeks like they used to. That’s what we used to say....
Andrew Johns playing in the 1997 decider with a punctured lung. Steve Roach flying to England to attempt to work off a suspension in 1988. Melbourne officials making defamatory allegations against the judiciary in 2008. Steve Price’s will he-or-won’t-he saga in 2004. Luke Ricketson’s 2002 suspension...
It seems we in the Fourth Estate have become so used to anodyne grand final weeks that we anticipate and plan for them. And when a genuine drama springs up and bites us on the bum, we are caught unawares.
In 2011, we actually had two dynamite stories fall in our laps. The yarn about Des Hasler heading to Canterbury as soon as next year got louder and louder as the week wore on. Even Des’s captain, Jamie Lyon, admits he started to believe them.
“Yeah, for sure,” the hero of Sunday’s 24-10 triumph said. “He’s a great coach and I feel lucky to be involved with him and I’m sure the other boys feel the same way.
“I never thought Wayne Bennett would leave Brisbane a few years ago either. You never know.
“He’s here next year, is that the story? It’s great to hear. Every single player and everyone in the club loves Des. I’d like him to stay as long as I’m here at least, hopefully longer.”
And then there was the speculation about whether Manly pair Glenn and Brett Stewart would shake hands with the NRL CEO, David Gallop. They did – but gave us an even better story by insisting on talking to him as well and not revealing afterwards what had been said.
If rugby league is a soap opera, this was ‘Who Shot JR?’
The next day, Manly had five players named in the Australian Four Nations squad. Williams, of course, previously played for Tonga in a World Cup. New team-mate Akuila Uate represented Fiji in the same World Cup, the 2008 tournament in Australia.
If there was any debate about the qualification rules when Australia coach Tim Sheens read out his squad on Monday, it was muted. Reporters were more interested in how Sheens was getting on with Anthony ‘Choc’ Watmough.
But last night international qualifications became the hottest topic in rugby league when England picked former New Zealand Maori halfback Rangi Chase on residency grounds, even though he has no English relatives. Coming on the back of Chris Heighington and Jack Reed’s selections, it caused a firestorm.
“Speechless,” Great Britain legend Garry Schofield Tweeted.
But he wasn’t. Not by a long shot.
“Let me carry on headbutting the wall for a while then I'll get back to you all,” he later said, followed by: “what a f---ing joke!! Our great game is slowly going down the pan. It needs sorting out.
“If I'd been told by Malcolm Reilly I wasn't in the GB team because they discovered Cliff Lyons qualified somehow I'd have been devastated.
“That's how (Richie) Myler, (Johnny) Lomax, (Lee) Gaskell etc etc will be feeling right now. This is wrong. It may be in the rules but morally this is bull.
“Will we be playing on a White shirt this autumn or will we now need to get some black, green & gold on it?
“So it's there in print. In July Chase was desperate to play for the Kiwis. How can ANYONE defend these rules?!”
Former Gold Coast, Leeds and Castleford star Adrian Vowles stood up for Chase on Twitter, saying he’d have been honoured to play for England if asked and still cheers for them.
The three of them – Chase, Heighington and Reed – are all due to make their England debuts against France in Avignon on October 21. On The Road will be there.
They don’t make Test match build-ups like they used to....