Meet rugby league's newest voice
The most remarkable aspect to Brenton Speed's addition to the Fox League commentary stable in 2017 is how unremarkable it has been.
In a sport that voraciously protects its own in the confines of a category titled "League People", Speed has brought a background as one of Australia's premier soccer commentators who has dabbled in rowing and jousting of all things and slotted straight in without barely an eyebrow being raised.
A graduate of the highly-regarded Charles Sturt University journalism program in Bathurst, Speed had not called a live game of rugby league until the Round 1 clash between the Gold Coast Titans and the Sydney Roosters this year, yet has quickly become part of the Fox League furniture.
Interested to know whether this soccer aficionado knew his completion rates from his HIA's, I spoke with Speed ahead of this week's assignment calling the Cronulla Sharks' game against the Titans on Saturday night about how he has adapted so quickly to calling the greatest game of all.
Blue, gold and a legend's influence
Born in Melbourne where he grew up to become a rabid Hawthorn fan, Speed and his family moved to Sydney when he was 10 years of age in the mid-1980s when the Parramatta Eels were the dominant – and most exhilarating – team of the time.
"I remember watching them win the try-less grand final in 1986 at a backyard barbecue and fell in love with that backline," Speed says.
"I thought Brett Kenny was a freak and then when I first started at Fox Sports I ended up working with him and played in a golf day with him which I thought was pretty cool.
"I always thought he should have had two tries in that grand final in '86; with video review I think he would have got at least one of them."
As he immersed himself in rugby league, Speed also began to pick up the nuances of the callers of the time.
As he and his friends played touch football together at Sydney High, Speed's inner caller would rarely be suppressed, often mimicking the style of Canterbury legend and wonderful caller through the 1980s and 1990s, Graeme Hughes.
"I'd basically call the games of touch footy I was playing in and reel out some of the lines I'd heard on the weekend and slot them into our touch footy games in the schoolyard," Speed recalls.
"A few people have said that there are a few hints of Graeme Hughes in the call as he was the doyen of callers in the era when I was watching rugby league. My mates and I used to mimic Graeme Hughes so it probably does come out every now and again."
It was this early connection to calling rugby league that proved so critical when then Head of Sport at Channel Nine, Steve Crawley, recruited Speed to call the International Champions Cup in 2015 and instantly saw the potential to add rugby league to his CV.
When Crawley took over as Head of Television at Fox Sports in May 2016, Speed was working the Fox Sports News desk along with his calling of the A-League but the veteran of almost 40 years in the Australian media landscape knew there was more.
"It was important to me that when he was in the schoolyard and he first started dreaming of being a caller the first thing he called was rugby league," Crawley told NRL.com.
"He grew up with rugby league, he knows rugby league, he used to call it in the playground and I thought we'd give him a go.
"He's an absolute gem and what I love about him is that he doesn't put himself ahead of the call. The game's always the star with him.
"A lot of the good callers try to inject too much of themselves into it, so they'll never be great.
"Brenton's got a long way to go but he's got a lot of potential. He's got the potential to be great."
Rugby league re-education
After impressing in a mock call of the 2015 Grand Final alongside Greg Alexander, Speed was invited this year to join a Fox League stable of commentators that includes Andrew Voss, Warren Smith and Matt Russell.
The game had changed a lot since those days in the schoolyard at Sydney High and Speed was invited to spend time with some of the game's sharpest minds in order to re-educate himself on the game's nuances.
In addition to a cavalcade of rugby league greats who regularly offer tips or hints as they stroll through the corridors of Fox Sports, some of the game's best coaches have welcomed Speed into the fold with some invaluable assistance.
"When I was a boyhood Parramatta fan they'd have that great backline stretched out on one side and you knew they were going to the seven, the six, the centres and then [Steve] Ella might chime into the backline from fullback," says Speed.
"It's very structured now, rugby league, with a second-rower, half and centre on each side so I've just been getting familiar with that and where certain players will be on the field.
"Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire heard that I was coming into the game and offered me the opportunity to come in and have a chat.
"We sat down in his office for 45 minutes and I picked his brain on rugby league and what he thought could be expressed in commentary, so that was a fascinating chat.
With Brenton, if he's calling big, it's big.
"The Roosters were my Round 1 proposition and being based in Sydney, Trent Robinson said he was happy for me to come and watch their captain's run which no one can normally rock up and watch.
"He knew I was the rookie caller and he was happy for me to come along and watch and then I walked back to his offices and threw a few questions at him and he was very open as well.
"I did the same thing with the Sharks and went out to Parramatta and Brad Arthur turned around and introduced himself mid-session and I could see how they were going to be lining up the next day.
"Being able to tap into these people's brains because they accept that I'm part of the Fox League commentary team has been awesome and it opens your eyes to the nuances of the game that you probably didn't appreciate before."
When preparing to call soccer, rugby league or AFL, colleagues at Fox Sports marvel at Speed's work ethic and hours of meticulous research that he puts in to making every call sound as though it is the most natural thing in the world.
"I walk around the office early in the morning and late at night and you'll see him there preparing, so it's not just a gift - there's a lot of hard work involved in that. He's not going to leave anything to chance," says Crawley.
"Ray Warren talks about light and shade [in a call]. Brenton gets that.
"Some people, when you're cooking a barbie, you've got to keep stopping because you think there's a big moment on, but that's just the way they call.
"With Brenton, if he's calling big, it's big."