We’ve all heard the expression ‘driven to distraction’. But when you are as driven as a professional rugby league player, are you distracted as easily as the rest of us?
Actors will stop mid-sentence and berate a theatre-goer for leaving his or her phone on, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a rugby league goal-kicker turn around and shoosh a spectator. We just assume that these men with an Appetite For Destruction also have an Immunity To Distraction.
This weekend, though, we have had three distinct impediments to concentration thrown in front of our stars.
Let’s start with Friday at NIB Stadium, when Brisbane winger Jharal Yow Yeh suffered a compound fracture of the ankle so shocking that television had to censor it and players in the vicinity felt faint.
“I actually jumped for the ball and when I came down, I felt his knee hit me in the back and it winded me,” South Sydney winger Dylan Farrell said of the collision that immediately preceded the injury.
“So I didn’t exactly see what happened to him but I’m pretty sure he broke and dislocated his ankle … because he started bleeding out through his sock.
“I don’t think it was too pretty. I was down, winded but the other players looked pretty disturbed by what they saw.”
The impact on the Broncos players was profound.
“He’s laying there with his bone sticking outside of his boot so he’s in a lot of pain,” said captain Sam Thaiday.
“Hodgo (Justin Hodges) and I were just trying to encourage him as much as we could. The first thing that goes through your head when you get injured is your footy, your career, your season.
“He was asking questions along the lines of those things.”
At halftime, with the Broncos still trailing, many were distracted. “The boys were pretty shattered at halftime,” prop Petero Civoniceva said. “All the boys are very close. It’s the thing I’ve noticed coming back to the Broncos, what a tight-knit group they are. You could definitely see they were very emotional.”
But despite the horror, as we know, Brisbane came back to win 20-12.
OK, so what about Sunday at AAMI Park, when Melbourne took the field knowing that their lynchpin Cooper Cronk was close to deciding on his future and had been offered a reported $3.2 million to join Gold Coast. “Everyone goes through it,” man of the moment Billy Slater said.
“Cooper’s not the only one going through it. He’s probably the most publicised... I think there’s a few other boys off contract.
“Everyone’s got to look after their future, that’s why we’ve got managers. Cooper can concentrate, the others can concentrate on playing football. That’s our job. Our job’s not to go out there and negotiate.
“Everyone’s aware that Cooper’s negotiating a contract. Everyone respects that. It’s his right to negotiate a contract. Obviously we’d love him to stay here, we’ve been his mates and team-mates for a long time.”
In any case, Slater scored two tries yesterday in a 44-4 win over Sydney Roosters. Cronk got two as well. “You saw how (Cronk) played today, it’s not affecting his football,” said Storm football manager Frank Ponissi. “It’s not affecting his demeanour, it’s not affecting the rest of the team.” No kidding.
So, contract talks and gory injuries are not enough to put pro rugby league players off.
How about Ronald McDonald dyed red hair? This morning, Australian time, Leeds players had fire engine-shaded hair as part of a sponsorship by charity Sporting Relief for their game against St Helens, who had lost four in a row and sacked coach Royce Simmons this time last week.
“Whenever we hear teams are dying their hair or such for charity, we are concerned,” said Sky commentator Eddie Hemmings. “It’s highly unprofessional,” co-commentator Mike Stephenson added, angering some viewers. The same was said about Andrew Johns when he died his mane scarlet a decade ago.
Superficial nonsense, you might say. But when Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield laid down the law to his team behind the posts this morning, it was hard to take him too seriously or not search the screen for the Hamburgler. So, distraction or not?
“To me it means other things on their minds,” former Australia back rower Mark Geyer tweeted. “You can support charities in a lot of other ways that don’t distract.”
And sure enough, Leeds lost the game - 46-6!
So there you have it. Rugby league players can’t be sickened to subjugation or negotiated to negativity. But dyed to distraction? You bet!