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Are you sitting down?
I hope so, because what you are about to read is massive. I mean, really big.
Rugby. Union. Is. Back.
Well, sort of.
Now, the mungos out there will be laughing into their happy hour schooners at Northies at the mere thought.
And the Swans types will be readjusting their newly bought scarfs and beanies, chuckling as they order another piccolo from their eastern suburbs cafe with a barista who is so serious you’d think he’s about to find a cure for cancer.
And the football types, well, they will point to the world game, and the Socceroos’ unbridled, winless success in Brazil. Sleeping giant and all that jazz.
But with the Waratahs taking on the Brumbies on Saturday night, with a place in the Super Rugby final on the line, with a Tahs record crowd of more than 40,000 at Allianz Stadium looming, there is renewed, if not cautious, optimism about the code.
Make no mistake, ARU and rugby types in general were furious at a story and picture on the back page of The Sydney Morning Herald last week revealing a coffee between Israel Folau, his manager Isaac Moses and NRL head of football Todd Greenberg.
They were angry that, despite two Australian teams qualifying for the finals, the focus was now on whether Folau and teammate Kurtley Beale would be playing rugby league in the near future.
Not that long ago, this column and many others would have scoffed at the outrage. In other words, rugby should be thankful for the coverage, so irrelevant had it become. The days of Wendell Sailor, Mat Rogers and Lote Tuqiri hogging headlines for switching to rugby are well behind us. Take what you can get.
But to suggest the 15-man game is still dying a slow death is nonsense. The NRL wishes. It wishes it had its time again and had signed Folau, instead of seeing him plastered over the back of almost every Sydney taxi in a Waratahs jumper. So why is rugby back? I’m glad you asked.
First, the so-called “rugby recession” might just be over. You will notice ARU boss Bill Pulver has stopped talking about the game’s precarious financial state. The Wallabies still command corporate dollars from the really big end of town: Qantas, HSBC, Lexus.
Also, don’t underestimate the inclusion of rugby sevens at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro from 2016. Play rugby and you can possibly win an Olympic medal. Some incentive. Of course, everything hinges on the Wallabies, and whether they can beat the All Blacks.
It’s that simple, and Ewen McKenzie has us on the right path. Robbie Deans is gone as Wallabies coach. So too is the “toxic culture” cultivated by Gen Y’ers Quade Cooper and James O’Connor. A new generation of Gen Y’ers in Matt Toomua, Bernard Foley and Michael Hooper has been ushered in.
Some say the ARU has erred in letting Nick Cummins take the big bucks in Japanese rugby. Some perspective, please. He’s a winger, who created headlines around the “Honey Badger” nickname. The future of Australian rugby hinges on more than that.
There is a long way to go, but McKenzie has given purists faint reason to believe we might see another Dave Brockhoff moment, when he ran around the perimeter of the SCG in 1979 clutching the Bledisloe.
Then there are the Tahs. This week, I’ve heard coach Michael Chieka described as a “lunatic”, “madman” and “genius”. Whatever he is, he’s got the Waratahs not only winning, but with a style of running rugby that suggests rugby is back.
If not back, headed in the right direction.
BENNETT WON’T BE WELCOMED BACK BY EVERYONE
Wayne Bennett will make a stunning return to Brisvegas next year, but do not expect a homecoming parade at Red Hill.
The senior players are furious at the treatment of current coach Anthony Griffin, who showed utmost class at the media conference confirming his termination.
Then there’s chief executive Paul White, who is making the right noises but is said to be livid about Bennett going around his back to News Corp chief executive Lachlan Murdoch to seal the deal.
(We talked to Murdoch’s peeps about him commenting, but he’s overseas).
Bennett’s statement on Tuesday claiming the Broncos “weren’t in the equation until the board recently contacted me” is also curious.
This column has been told that a group of influential businessmen, who have sway with the board, has been agitating for months for Bennett’s return – with former general manager of football operations Andrew Gee central to negotiations.
Gee resigned from the club after a 25-year involvement in the wake of the NRL’s salary cap investigation.
The last time I saw Gee and Bennett together was three years ago, when I was a guest in Bennett’s coaches box during the Indigenous All Stars game.
Gee was running the interchange alongside the master coach.
MICK POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS
Oh, to be an NRL coach in this trigger-happy day and age.
At the start of the week, the tip was the Tigers board was going to basically ignore the report it commissioned from Brian Smith and keep coach Mick Potter. A 12-month contract extension appeared certain.
But then, on Thursday, it emerged that Potter was now tipped to be sacked, with assistant coach David Kidwell expected to get the job.
FASTER, HIGHER, CHEAPER
Channel Seven is set to host the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016 … from a car park in Sydney or Melbourne.
The network is yet to announce it will be hosting the next three summer and winter Olympics.
It might be because head of sport Saul Shtein has been in Rio this week attending a briefing of official broadcast partners for the games.
The word out of Copacabana Beach is that Seven will do exactly what it did for Athens in 2004 – host the five-ring circus from a temporary studio in Australia, in order to save costs.
SCG TO HONOUR MEDIA GREATS
The hard-working members of the sporting media will be honoured with a hall of fame in the SCG’s new MA Noble, Don Bradman and Dally Messenger Stands.
There will be 15 inaugural inductees, announced at a lunch function at the SCG on August 26, and there are some shoo-ins: Fairfax photographer John O’Gready (who took the Gladiators pic that features on the NRL trophy), former cricketer Bill O’Reilly, legendary radio caller Frank Hyde, and Channel Nine’s Ray Warren.
An expert panel of trustees, sporting historians and leading journalists has been consulted to whittle down the inaugural inductees.
“The Hall of Honour will pay tribute to the men and women of the media who have excelled in their careers covering sport at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Allianz Stadium and the Sydney Sports Ground before it,” SCG Trust chief executive Jamie Barkley said.
“It will acknowledge the rich history of the press and broadcasters who have reported from the grounds, recognising their role in etching into history the countless famous sporting moments that have taken place here.”
“I can’t guarantee I’ll be here. Rugby league is a crazy, crazy game.” – In this crazy, crazy old world, thank heavens for Manly coach Geoff Toovey.
Yeah, Rory McIlroy won this third major by holding on for victory at the British Open. But the REAL winner was his father, Gerry, who had the foresight a decade ago to bet $180 at the odds of 500 to 1 that his son would win the tournament before he turned 26. The payout: $90,000.
The easiest whinge in town is that the Commonwealth Games are irrelevant, they’re a relic of the former British Empire, we should get rid of them. This column is not a monarchist by any means, but as long as young types are aspiring to be their best, is it really that bad?
IT’S A BIG WEEKEND FOR … playing against your old joint. First up, Benji Marshall, who comes up against Wests Tigers – as a St George Illawarra Dragon – at ANZ Stadium. It’s weird seeing him in the Red V. Imagine when it’s against the Tigers.
IT’S AN EVEN BIGGER WEEKEND FOR … Lance “Buddy” Franklin, as he returns to Melbourne and the MCG to take on his former side, Hawthorn – as a Sydney Swan. He can’t drive, but he has the Swannies purring like a Maserati as they head into the pointy end of the AFL season.
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