Saint Benji the fibber?
“I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
“There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.”
” I will never play in the NRL against the Wests Tigers.”
And so, the Benji circus rolls into town! Having just signed a two and a half year, reported $1.2M, deal with the St George Dragons, the NRL world welcomes the aging superstar back to game he turned his back on less than 12 months earlier. After what he describes as a “failed experiment” with the Aukland Blues rugby franchise, Benji Marshall insists that he is not returning for money, nor to play with his mates. Instead, he wants to put himself out of his “comfort zone” and leave the game with a legacy for all the right reasons. No ulterior motives. No pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes. Do I believe that?
Let’s go back to the reasons why he left the game in the first place. Simple. He wasn’t good enough. The Tigers knew it. The fans knew it. Deep down, he knew it. The game had passed him by. His stats reflected that very fact. His number of tries, try assists, line breaks, line break assists stats were one of the lowest in the competition. His lateral / ad-lib style was not working and the only face saving (and money spinning) option was to change code. So, why is his second coming going to be a revelation? Has he become a better player in less than 12 months? Will he put his body on the line in defence? Will he go to the line in attack? The cynic in me says this is more his last shot at superannuation rather than redemption. Something tells me his only legacy will be the cleanest white jersey in history and his career will terminate in much the same manner as Bill Clinton and Julia Gillard.
Salary cap Pandora’s box
A wide range of salary cap changes was announced last week by NRL CEO Dave Smith including one whichs effectively “gives the NRL CEO discretion to compete with other codes to recruit or retain players in exceptional circumstances”. Basically, this means Smith can provide an initial central contract to, say, Israel Folau , hence clubs may then continue negotiations. On face value, it’s a great initiative designed to keep or recruit marquee players such as Sonny Bill Williams, Israel Folau, Karmichael Hunt and Sam Burgess. However, as with many discretionary policies, this one is subject to manipulation, most notably by the much maligned player managers.
For instance, what constitutes a “once in a 10 year” type player who would attract this discretionary payment? Does Karmichael Hunt qualify? Who decides the deserving recipient? I’m sure Dave Smith will have his advisers, but are they qualified? Once the player has been identified, how do you value that player? For example, who is worth more – Greg Inglis or Sonny Bill Williams? Does this system favour richer clubs who can attract more third party top up payments? What if Israel wants to return to Parramatta but, say, the Bulldogs offer more money? Will the NRL top up Parramatta? What’s stopping Greg Inglis from coming out now and requesting a release from his existing contract in the hope that the NRL will step in and negotiate a central contract top up? Player managers know exactly when to call the bluff. They also know how to maximise player value by pitting codes against one another. As I said, I applaud the initiative but there’s too many grey areas for my liking. It will be interesting to see how this pans out.
Lovin’ the rivalry
I’ve got to say my favourite rivalry in the game at the moment is Melbourne Storm v Manly Sea Eagles. You are never disappointed when these two teams, who have dominated over the past decade, clash. We were, once again, treated to a gripping encounter on Saturday night, with the Storm prevailing by 22-19 after being behind by 9 points with 9 minutes left on the clock. This follows their first round encounter when the Storm won by a field goal in extra time. I just hope these two teams meet again at least once more this year.
When will they learn?
We haven’t had one of these for a while but Mitchell Pearce was arrested and given an infringement notice after an incident at…….you guessed it, Kings Cross, on Sunday morning at 1:30am. Pearce could face more charges as police investigate an alleged incident inside the club in question. Without trying to speculate as to what transpired, it is safe to say that some players will never learn. After years of repeated incidents, most recently involving Blake Ferguson and Russell Packer, you would think NRL players and, in particular, those about to partake in the State of Origin series, would steer well away from notorious night spots like Kings Cross? Am I being too logical?
RIP Reg Gasnier
I was saddened to hear of the passing of one of the absolute greats of the game in Reg Gasnier. The “prince of centres” was named one of the original immortals and his list of achievements in the game including being part of the Dragons’ record run of 11 premierships will be remembered forever. I never got to see Reg Gasnier play, but everyone who knew him says he was an even better person off the field than he was on it. Rugby League is poorer for his loss. RIP Reg Gasnier.