By Peter FitzSimons, Sydney Morning Herald
Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson, you say, got on the squirt, big-time, just before Origin III, with the entire series on the line?
Well … knock me over with a feather! What next?
A rugby league club to be found rorting the salary cap system?
The Waratahs to lose again?
Greg Norman to place photos of himself on social media that would make Narcissus blush?
Donald Trump to send out a tweet that would curl your hair?
Look, of course Dugan and Ferguson let the side down in that manner. It is what they do. Both are phenomenally talented players – particularly Dugan, who at his best is mesmerising – but both players have such a long track record of that kind of shit that true newsworthiness would be if it was discovered that they were tucked up into bed by 10pm each evening, and on their day off chose to fit in a couple of extra gym sessions. Now that would be news!
Which brings me to my point.
As we sort through the smoking ruins of another devastated NSW Origin campaign, trying to ignore the sounds of celebration coming from north of the Tweed – just a sec, WILL YOU HILL-BILLIES KEEP IT DOWN PLEASE??? – perhaps the Dugan/Ferguson episode can be used for guidance as to how to rebuild for next year.
For a reader, Paul Miles, wrote me a letter this week which resonated.
After the opening paragraph or two which, as usual, lambasted me for my woeful ignorance of all things league, he got to his point.
“It’s about character,” he wrote. “Answer me this: who would you want your daughter to be with? Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater, and the other clean cut QLD players, or Fifita, Ferguson, Dugan, Pearce and all the other NSW misfits?”
I know, I know, a tad harsh, I think particularly on Pearce, but this bloke is just a bit like that.
Go on, Paul:
“Compare past atrocities. The worst behaved ‘sinners’ from QLD are Napa and Holmes who disobeyed a curfew in camp last year and had a quiet drink. Who hasn’t? Papalii bizarrely dobbed himself into police for drink driving. Maybe that was a Mormon thing, I don’t know.”
He then goes on to list the atrocities of NSW players, which I won’t repeat, but his theme is that it is an ugly list, that goes beyond just Ferguson and Dugan. He then went on about tattoos.
“I invoke the sage words of Frank Gallagher, of ‘Shameless’ fame, who said: ‘God gave us ink so that we immediately know who the imbeciles are’. Last I looked only one QLD player has a neck and thigh tattoo (McGuire), while there is barely a player in the NSW team not covered head to toe in ugly, ridiculous ink.”
I know, I know, some of my best friends have tattoos, and I won’t hear a word against them! But … we know what he means.
“And the fact is that NSW spent the whole series comparing tattoos and naval gazing, just like they’d been taught in Thai Rehab Clinics, or Anger Management Therapy, or wherever, while QLD, comfortable in their own skins, trained hard without any of that self-analysing hoo haa and introspection. That’s why QLD win and keep winning … character and no tattoos.”
His outrageous “tattoo-ism,” aside, doesn’t he have a point?
NSW have tried every other bloody thing in the past decade and a bit with only one series win to show for it, so maybe it is time to try a new way for next year? Maybe, dinkum, invoke a No Dickhead policy – thanks, Josh and Blake, but that will be all – and start to pick on, yes, character. Form a team that you can count on. Pick good men, who want to bleed for the cause, not just the best players. You have a very good man to begin with in Boyd Cordner, and start to build a side around him. Pick his kind of players.
We have seen with Queensland, how those blokes, built around Cameron Smith, are able to conjure up victories they simply have no right to, because they never stop trying, never stop tackling. They are capable of taking horrifying drubbings, and still they come back from it!
How do you pick a player’s character, beyond his habits on a Saturday night?
I thought you’d never ask.
Do it like Eddie Jones does it. You will recall me recounting his words over breakfast last year, the morning after he’d guided his England side to beat the Wallabies 3-0. Eddie said there were only two things that counted in working out who to pick.
“We measure how long it takes a bloke, after being tackled, to get back on his feet in attack. And we measure how long it takes him, after tackling someone, to get back on his feet in defence.”
Character. Commitment. Urgency. The sort of things you do when, you don’t think anyone is watching. The little things, that make all the difference – like not bludging on the blind, but getting yourself into the defensive line, even when you think there is no chance the ball is going to come your way!
(Don’t get me started.)
This has to be the way forward, yes?
What we do know is that the way it has been done, ain’t working, so let’s try that!
Peter FitzSimons is managed by The Fordham Company.