The curious case of the NRL

A man who is sent off for striking an opponent in the head with his elbow speaks to the media. Another who almost single-handedly leads his side to victory, kicking a field goal in golden point extra-time, refuses to.

These are weird and wonderful times in the National Rugby League.

St George Illawarra second-rower Matt Prior had every reason to slink out of Dairy Farmers Stadium on Friday night after his 55th-minute challenge on local favourite Johnathan Thurston. Players sent off rarely speak to the press because the general consensus is they can only hurt their defence by doing so.

But in the case of the 24-year-old Thirroul junior, throwing himself on the mercy of the fourth estate seemed to be the first step towards doing likewise at the judiciary.

“It wasn’t a brain explosion, I just tried to do a shoulder charge,” he told a couple of reporters, sitting on the sideline to improve their 3G reception, at about 10.30 on Friday night. “I got him high, which I regret now. I obviously didn’t mean to do that. I just feel real sorry for him, and I hope he is OK. I just tried to see if he was OK, but he’s already ducked out.”

The audio was forwarded to other reporters at the ground by email. A subtle PR offensive had begun. Dragons official Wendell Sailor had already passed on Prior’s apologies to Thurston.

Twenty-four-hours later, Wests Tigers facilitated a ‘PR defensive’. With his place in the NSW Origin side the hottest topic south of the border, Wests Tigers captain Robbie Farah scored his side’s first try from nothing, executed a crucial charge-down that sent the game against Gold Coast at Skilled Park into overtime and then kicked the winning field goal.

But after being briefly interviewed on the field by TV, Farah declined to attend the media conference and said outside the dressing rooms he would not be talking. The international clearly thought he had as much to lose by speaking as Prior thought he had to gain.

“How do you feel about club great and NSW assistant coach Steve Roach saying your name is not suited to Origin?” and “How do you feel about being the centre of a slanging match between the coaches of Australia and NSW?” were clearly not questions Farah felt like facing.

But that is not to say he was focused on these issues. “I was his room-mate on the Gold Coast,” said prop Ray Cashmere, “and he was such a professional.

“He’s human, I’m sure he thinks about those things that were being written about last week. But he didn’t talk about it, didn’t get involved in conversations about it. He was just focused on the game.”

The competition may be producing wildly different spectacles each time two teams run out – from exhilarating contests and grinding wars to the occasional mistake-riddled mess – but its capacity to surprise has not dimmed this season.

Take this comment from Sydney Roosters coach Brian Smith on Sunday after the 24-6 win over Newcastle: “Those ball-playing guys, I’m at them all the time to recognise that (scoring) is not the end product – six points is nice, or four.

“But the back-end of the game, teams change. They flick a switch. They have to play a bit different when the clock’s going to run out and teams can run up points in no time. So, taking the gas out of them and working them over so hopefully they can’t come back with that at the end of the game… it’s at least as important as scoring the points themselves.”

Smith admitted instructing halfback Mitchell Pearce to kick the ball dead deliberately so the likes of Akuila Uate and Darius Boyd could not run it back. Attacking without scoring is now “at least as important as attacking to score,” Smith said.

You learn something new every round....