Why there should always be a place for the villains

Why there should always be a place for the villains

On the scale of 'dog acts' this was a cross between a Great Dane and a Rottweiler.

Clipped by a glancing high shot from Eels lock forward Nathan Brown, Broncos winger Jonus Pearson laid prone on the ground in the centre of ANZ Stadium last Friday night like he'd been stunned by a taser.

What Kenny Edwards saw was an opponent in a vulnerable position and he went in with a swinging shoulder type of a 'tackle' and he went in hard.

It elicited howls of outrage through the channel specifically built for the purpose – social media – and brought with it comparisons to the hit by Raiders forward Sia Soliola on Storm fullback Billy Slater that was the subject of lengthy debate prior to him receiving a five-week suspension.

Edwards was rightly cited by the Match Review Committee on a charge of contrary conduct and with an early guilty plea will be $1,100 out of pocket but it's hard to believe he won't be out there antagonising Bulldogs players again when Round 22 kicks-off on Thursday night. 

Edwards told NRL.com's Chris Kennedy immediately after the Eels' stirring win on Friday night that he regretted his actions and that it too was "not a good look" but for the growing army of opposition supporters it provided a healthy dose of fuel for the anti-Edwards flame that is nearing bushfire status in its enormity.

Whether it has been rubbing opposition players' heads, bringing them unwittingly into a celebratory Parramatta team cuddle or feigning injury in order to give his side some kind of advantage, there is a growing hatred for the actions of Edwards… and the game is better for it.

Fox Sports commentator Andrew Voss called for T-shirts to be made emblazoned with the phrase, 'What's Kenny doing?' as the likes of Braith Anasta and Michael Ennis (holding back the smirk of a kindred spirit) questioned whether Edwards could soon cost his team dearly in a game that counts for plenty.

He's a player Parra fans love but just as important is that he has become the lightning rod for opposition fans who for so long have been starved of someone to hate.

State of Origin owes much of its widespread fanaticism to the underlying distaste for those living on the wrong side of the border but the modern era of the NRL is largely devoid of the villains that make the eternal struggle between good and bad possible in the first place.

At present we're asking people to spend their entertainment dollars on a spectacle predicated on the notion that the 'bad guys' are bad simply because of their choice of clothing.

It's like hating the Joker because of an aversion to red lipstick.

Fans for more than 100 years have gone to the footy as much to boo the opponents as they have to cheer for their hometown heroes but just as important as knowing who represents you is gleaming an insight into the character traits of the blokes you're supposed to hate.

Who really wins when Batman takes on Superman if you like – or at the very least respect – what they both stand for?

When Origin comes around the media seeks to pit individuals against each other in often fabricated personal duels but an unwillingness to provide further motivation for the arch enemy leads to increasingly sanitised sound bites from those on the battle field.

The stoush between Wally Lewis and Mark Geyer in 1991 captured Origin's animosity so superbly because Blues fans hated the cockiness and match-winning capabilities of 'The King' just as much as the Maroons faithful viewed Geyer has a hot-headed thug who couldn't control his temper.

Paul Gallen became Queensland's go-to target at which to spew their vile hatred largely in part because he understood the theatre of the thing and how much it needed it. Cameron Smith and Billy Slater have an army of detractors in New South Wales despite being two of the game's all-time greats and wonderful ambassadors for our code.

It took a contract back-flip two years ago for Queenslanders to boo one of their own and even when players switch from one club to their despised rival it is met with the muted acknowledgment that this is now simply the way of things.

Which brings us back to Edwards.

One of the most confounding aspects of the modern game – especially from those on the losing side sitting in the stands or watching at home – is the jovial nature in which post-game handshakes are undertaken.

They shake hands, man-hug and exchange pleasantries literally seconds after they've finished belting each other for those so inclined give us cause to wonder how some players even know each other in the first place. (Was Karl Lawton Chris Heighington's paper boy as a kid?)

In Edwards we have a player who you'd rather put one on his chin just as soon as shake his hand but he brings an emotion-fuelled energy to a game that we can often be lacking.

The two minutes after his awful hit on Pearson were charged with raw aggression and the Bureau of Meteorology recorded a three-degree temperature rise at Red Hill as Bronco fans became infuriated that a questionable hit on a player who couldn't defend himself went unpunished.

What Edwards did should be condemned and has no place in our game but long live the villains who make a win attheir expense that much more satisfying.