The sport of rugby league is something I enjoy watching, but what I enjoy hearing about much more are the stories and characters behind the men and women that take the field each week to represent their communities, clubs, states and countries.
The stories behind the players always remind me that first and foremost our rugby league players are human beings. At times, moments in footy happen that shine a light on their humanity and remind us that while these players might be warriors on the field, when the lights go off at the stadium and the crowds disappear they go home and become people like you and me.
Here are some of those moments.
Last year I watched David Klemmer embracing Chase Stanley in the dressing rooms after Chase was forced from the field late in a first half with a hamstring injury. Chase is a player that has only just surpassed 100 games despite playing in the NRL for 10 years. His career will be one that will be remembered for injuries to his shoulders, knees and elbows.
To see Chase forced from the field that day, after just having returned from another injury was very difficult to watch. But then, to see a tender moment between team mates, particularly David Klemmer who is generally a player associated with power and aggression, certainly tugged at my heart strings.
The raw emotion both fans and players alike show when one of their club heroes is forced to change clubs or retire is another moment that always captures my attention. Josh Reynolds has had plenty of attention in recent weeks, but it is simply because Josh loves the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Bulldogs love him right back. Seeing him make it very clear that he didn’t want to leave the club and then ultimately deciding to do so was also a very hard moment for me to watch as was seeing Wests Tigers fans booing Aaron Woods a couple of weeks ago.
What about the tributes that flowed to Johnathan Thurston on Wednesday night during State of Origin Game III? What a special moment to see JT invited onto the stage by Cameron Smith at the end of the game to help hoist the shield high above both their heads, celebrating another dominant Queensland victory and one of the greatest players our game has ever seen.
Moments of heartbreak also stand out. Over the years, the Parramatta Eels have dished up plenty of heartbreak, but my heart also broke for a young player on the weekend – Brock Lamb after his performance in the game between the Newcastle Knights and the Bulldogs.
With both teams languishing towards the bottom of the ladder and Canterbury desperate for the win to give Josh Reynolds the send-off he deserved, there was plenty of emotion in this game.
The Knights have been incredibly brave this year and have lost in some very unlucky circumstances. They also have the best fans in Australian sport who continue to turn up to support the club which they love so much.
If I’m honest, at the end of the first half Newcastle had no right to be in this game. But, despite being behind on the scoreboard early in the game by eight points, Newcastle went on to score three tries to have a 10-point lead with just five minutes to go.
Being an Eels fan, I’ve learned never to write off the Bulldogs, but even I didn’t see this coming… well at least I didn’t see it coming until Marcelo Montoya scored a try with 5 minutes to go to give the Dogs a sniff. That play was followed in the next set by Moses Mbye pouncing on a Brock Lamb kick to race 70 metres and put the Bulldogs 2 points in front.
I can’t imagine how Brock would have been feeling at this particular moment. Shattered. Distressed. Exhausted. Embarrassed. Despite rugby league being a team sport and him having no right to feel like this, we’ve all experienced moments in our lives like this where we just want to rewind the clock and do it differently.
But then – a chance! Newcastle were given another opportunity to level the game on the stroke of full-time courtesy of a Josh Reynolds penalty.
What happened next absolutely baffled me. As I mentioned, Brock Lamb only moments before had been involved in a play which had invited the Bulldogs to take the lead.
To say he probably wasn’t in the best headspace is an understatement.
Trent Hodkinson was brought to the Knights to be a leader, but instead of taking the kick himself, decided that because Brock had the stronger boot, that he should be the one to take the kick which could have won the Knights the game.
Brock is a player who is just 20 years old and who has had responsibility thrust upon him this year because of injuries to senior players and simply because he is part of a team that is extremely young and still learning. In my view, he never should have been pushed to take this kick – it was the responsibility of a more senior player, like Hodkinson, to step up and take the pressure off a player who had just come off the back of a very traumatic play.
From the moment Brock lined up that kick it was wrong. Apparently, he was so nervous that when the incorrect kicking tee was brought out to him he didn’t even call for the right tee – so high were his stress levels and with the clock ticking, he couldn’t speak out.
You all know what happened next. Brock missed the kick and the game was over. The Knights fell to their knees and the Bulldogs celebrated.
From all accounts, following the loss Brock struggled. I imagine he was struggling with questions like ‘did I cost them the game?’ and wondering whether he would ever be able to wash away the feelings of disappointment following the loss.
What I would like to say to Brock Lamb is that you have a team and a supporter base that is here to embrace you. Your career will not be characterised by one mistake.
You are a young player who is still learning. You will make mistakes and that’s completely OK. You will be better for this experience.
I’ve continued to be amazed by Knights fans this week and the way they have wrapped their arms around this young player and reminded him what a valued and important part he is of their squad.
I hope that Brock Lamb takes a big breath, lifts his head up and runs out full of confidence for the Knights on Saturday against the Broncos, knowing he has the support of a fan base which has shown over and over that they will always be there.
Brock is too young and too talented to do anything otherwise.