Fear the Reaper

Filed in Other by on December 10, 2010

One of the most amusing scenes one can pay witness to is to see someone with masklophobia grabbed from behind by a mascot on a calm and pleasant Sunday afternoon. I was fortunate enough to see this one day at Canberra Stadium a number of winters ago and laughed myself to tears as the grown woman went medieval, elbowing Victor the Viking in the chops before running from her seat on the fence, not to be sighted for the second half. Victor rocked back, stunned by the elbow, while the woman with the apparent fear of mascots shrieked a glass shattering shriek before fleeing with a great urgency. She may have, Forrest Gump style, just kept running or she may have found a mascot safe-house to retire too. Many masklophobes do indeed become agoraphobes so perhaps she just went home and decided to never leave again. At any rate, not many who witnessed the hilarity could offer much of an explanation as most were keeled over in laughter while the rest were quickly attempting to catch the action on their mobile phones. But it was too late. The whole incident lasted no longer than ten seconds and there are only an elite few who are composed enough to operate a recording device in the throes of such an obtuse scene.

This wasn’t my first encounter with masklophobia and I am certainly hopeful that it won’t be my last. Once, during my university years, I was wandering back to college when I saw the girl walking five metres in front of me constantly looking over her shoulder. It was Open Day and I thought I was perhaps getting the old come-hither eyes. I straightened my collar and brushed the sausage roll crumbs from my beard and quickly folded the tab form down to a square, quickly shoving it in my pocket. The notion of getting lucky was quickly dashed, however, when the girl broke into a trot and then a downright sprint. Right. I checked my appearance to ensure I wasn’t giving off the aura of a rapist or axe murderer but all was in order. No sausage roll crumbs, no visible racing form. This was all very odd and remained so even when I saw a man dressed as a gorilla just behind me. You become accustomed to weirdness on a university campus and someone dressed as a gorilla was hardly on the far end of the strangeness continuum. The little Asian man with the body odour problem and the filthy yellow jumper who always insisted on squatting even when chairs were readily available probably squats further to the right on the weirdness scale.

It turned out the gentleman in the gorilla get up was none other than an old pal of mine and, in an effort to quench our never-ending thirst, we decided to hit the college bar. We would not have been midway through our first lager, my man still in his gorilla suit, when the girl I had seen not twenty minutes earlier wandered into the bar with the college guide and a number of other prospective residents. The look of terror on her face when she saw a gorilla chugging down a long neck of Melbourne Bitter while telling an amusing tale of debauchery and defilement from the previous night is one that won’t soon be forgotten. She quickly retreated and obviously decided to enquire about other living arrangements.

And there have been plenty of other weird tales of masklophobia, none of which fail to amaze and amuse unless, of course, the idea of a humanoid figure or a mask or a clown freaks you out. One’s involving waiting three hours for a Noddy show to finish so they could pass safely through the mall. One’s involving dancing Christmas trees and the safety of the closed stairwell. One’s involving instant and temporary paralysis when stepping onto Main Street, Disneyland. One’s involving a high ranking member of the Punting Ace team being traumatised by his mother when she came home wearing an Easter Bunny mask.

Why this is important I’m not really sure but I have spent a great deal of time considering fear lately and more specifically the fear I and many well credentialed people have for the immediate future of the New South Wales State of Origin team and it seemed appropriate or at the very least partially relevant to start on such a light note considering the heavy hammer which is about to be dropped.

We should all fear the reaper. The situation is dire and hope appears to be dead if you call yourself a Blue. Failure is imminent and total destruction is probable if we continue on down the same treacherous path. The morons selecting the New South Wales team have made sure of that.

Some of the selections for game three defy belief. Well, they would if such madness hadn’t become a thrice-annual tradition in these parts. The series is over and game three will be a dead rubber yet instead of taking the opportunity to prepare for the future the selection panel and coach Craig Bellamy have publicly stated that their intention is to avoid the clean sweep. Ok. It is a decision born out of selfishness and short-sightedness with the prospect of a fifth straight series defeat far more humiliating than a series clean sweep. But let’s assume the selection panel was only concerned with winning game three.

The decision to bring in Brett Kimmorley was fair even if it was too late if the aim was this series or stupid in regards the future of the Blues team. Michael Ennis was the right call to replace Farah at hooker. Farah had his opportunity and he let it slip with an insipid performance in game two. And that is about it on the positive side of the ledger with the inclusion of Tom Learoyd-Lars a positive move for the future but one that flies in the face of selecting a Kimmorley-Barrett halves combination.

Having selected a terrible team for game two that no doubt cost the Blues any hope of winning the series and provided nothing for the immediate future of New South Wales, the selectors compounded the problems for game three by naming one of the worst New South Wales teams to ever represent the state. Mark Latham did a more competent job running an election campaign than these fools do at selecting a football team.

Trent Barrett somehow held his spot despite his ordinary performance in game two, his age, the fact he hasn’t played since game two due to suspension and the fact that there are better performed five-eighths available who will give New South Wales a better hope of winning game three as well as provide a base for the Blues to work off next season. The only positive to come out of Barrett’s selection will be the repayment Michael Crocker will provide very early on for Barrett’s cheap shot on Greg Inglis in game two.

The decision to stick with Jamie Lyon and David Williams after a cumulative three average-to-appalling performances at the expense of form players Josh and Brett Morris was amazing in its ineptitude. Luckily Lyon, who doesn’t even want to play, has withdrawn with Josh Morris replacing him. The decision to again snub the form back rower of the competition Nathan Hindmarsh due to his age was pathetic. Somebody should point out to the selectors that Hindmarsh is two years younger than both Barrett and Kimmorley and only two years older than Josh Perry. In game two, half the team they selected were carrying injuries which meant the Blues preparation was a clusterfuck of monumental proportions. One can’t be confident they haven’t done the same again.

The most astounding decisions of the lot, however, were the calls to name Josh Perry and Brett White as two of the three prop forwards. Josh Perry is a cheap and nasty thug who provides nothing to a team. This season he is averaging an appallingly low 81.5 metres per match on 10.3 runs with only 20.6 tackles per game. He has 13 tackle breaks and 13 offloads from 13 matches. Brett White has battled foot problems all season and is not renowned as being a damaging or incisive runner. Further, he is not regarded as a particularly hard worker. This season he is making a paltry 87.9 metres and 18.3 tackles. He has a total of 2 offloads and 8 tackle breaks in 10 matches.

Lets have a look at the list of New South Wales eligible props (or back rowers who can play prop) who are available for selection with more average metres per match: Luke Bailey (141.1), Anthony Laffranchi (127.1), Luke Douglas (120.6), Justin Poore (119), Luke Stuart (104.1), Michael Hodgson (103.5), Kade Snowden (101.1), John Skandalis (101), Brent Kite (100.6), Joel Clinton (99.7), Bryce Gibbs (98.7), Josh Miller (95.3), Dan Hunt (94.3), Michael Henderson (93.4), Chris Armit (92.3), Willie Mason (90.5), Dane Tilse (90.3), Jason King (88.8) and Craig Fitzgibbon (88.1).

And those who average more tackles: Luke Douglas (36.9), Anthony Laffranchi (34.3), Craig Fitzgibbon (32), Chris Houston (31.9), Luke Stuart (31.2), Kade Snowden (30.5), Justin Poore (29.7), Luke Bailey (28.5), Dan Hunt (28.1), Brent Kite (26.4), Jarrod Saffy (25.6), Todd Payten (24.8), Josh Miller (24.8), Bryce Gibbs (24.7), Steve Simpson (24.4), Joel Clinton (23.8), Shane Shackleton (22.3), John Skandalis (21), Jason King (20.9), Michael Hodgson (20.8) and Jesse Royal (20.7).

Statistics in rugby league can often be misleading- factors like organisational abilities for halves are difficult to quantify- but with props they tell the entire story. The role of the prop is to make metres up the middle and ensure the centre third is well policed in defence. No more and no less. An ability to break tackles and offload is a bonus but the primary role of the prop is simple: go forward and defend in the middle. Both are easily quantifiable and those statistics often tell you who the best props are. It is no surprise that Steve Price and Petero Civoniceva lead all props in average metres and are just ahead of Luke Bailey and Ben Hannant. They are the four best props in the NRL and the stats reflect that.

For those counting, the New South Wales selectors overlooked 18 props with better go-forward and 20 props with a superior work ethic. Luke Douglas, who ranks as the number one defensive prop in the NRL and the third best metre-eater available for New South Wales and who has played 90 consecutive matches for Cronulla, was overlooked for two players who do not rank in the top sixteen of either category. Douglas would be both a player for the future and a player for now yet he was overlooked for two proven representative failures that have done virtually nothing at club level. The same goes for Luke Bailey, who was not afforded the same luxury as Trent Barrett despite actually having something to offer.

The simple fact of the matter is that the New South Wales selection panel have less idea about rugby league than a dung farmer has about sabermetrics. Old favourites are picked, no plan of attack is developed and no patience shown. Three of the four selectors are out-of-touch, serious questions need to be asked about Laurie Daley and if Craig Bellamy had much say in the makeup of the team then he should stick to club football while NSWRL bosses Geoff Carr and Colin Love should resign for allowing an off-contract coach to dictate the team used for a dead rubber.

A brief analysis of the New South Wales selection panel, if you will.

Bob McCarthy, the chairman of selectors, retired from a very good playing career with South Sydney and Canterbury in 1978. He then went on to a coaching career with the Gold Coast (1988-90) and South Sydney (1993-94) where his teams went 30-76-4 for a winning percentage of 27.3%. He has not played in 31 years, has not coached in 15 and never had a winning season as a head coach yet is charged with selecting the New South Wales and Australian teams.

Bob Fulton, the most influential member of selection panel, was an immortal as a player and a good coach in the eighties and nineties. Fulton was a brilliant five-eighth and centre for Manly and Easts in the late sixties and seventies before retiring in 1979. As a coach he won 64% of club matches during a stint at the Roosters and two at Manly and led Manly to premierships in 1987 and 1996 before retiring in 1999. Despite having quality playing lists in the competition, Manly failed to play in September in Fulton’s last two seasons in charge. It has now been ten years since he has coached with Fulton, a renowned Manly pusher, now playing the clown with Ray Hadley and co on the Continuous Call team. One need only spend five minutes listening to Fulton to understand how much the game has passed him by.

Geoff Gerard was a fair-to-middling prop whose only claim to fame was longevity. He retired in 1989. He played only twice for New South Wales and has but six Test matches to his name yet he has been on the selection panel for over a decade. Seemingly Shannon Hegarty (three Tests, three Origin matches) is more than qualified to become a selector. Gerard never progressed beyond coaching reserve grade with his time in charge of the Parramatta reggies in 1994 and 1995 generally referred to as “disastrous”.

Laurie Daley is the fourth selector. He retired from playing in 2000 and has not coached at NRL level. He has coached Country to a draw and a loss, the latter result following the resignation of two fellow Country selectors due to Daley’s refusal to consider Brett Kimmorley. He has been an assistant to the Blues since 2007, all the while maintaining his role as a media identity and commentator on Fox. At least he has an understanding of the modern game.

McCarthy, Fulton and Gerard have not had any involvement in coaching or first grade rugby league in the last decade with Gerard, who played only two matches for New South Wales, having never coached and McCarthy never having a winning season in five as a non-playing coach. Yet these three men continue to select the New South Wales team year after year. Despite choosing teams that managed three consecutive series defeats, they were bought back for a fourth. The smart money is that they will all be bought back for a fifth. There is no accountability in the process and these ignorant fools can continue on, unabated, despite their obvious lack of qualifications.

Chris Anderson was lambasted when he returned for the Roosters after three seasons away from the game with critics calling him out-of-touch. Yet a selection panel that is chaired by a man who has had no involvement in rugby league since 1994 with panel members who haven’t been involved at the top level since 1989 and 1999 respectively manages to keep on truckin’ regardless of results.

Despite being a New South Welshman I will be cheering on Queensland come Wednesday week. I will be betting them heavily and I believe they will rightfully humiliate the Blues by a big score. And I will be cheering the Maroons on until these out-of-touch jokers are forced out of the selection room in shame and humiliation where they will be hopefully tarred and feathered and sent down Martin Place with their pants around their ankles and large billboard signs apologising to the general public of New South Wales.

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