From The Couch: December 5

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on December 5, 2011

A Sad Day for Rugby League: Rugby league suffered one of its darkest days last Thursday when word came through that Immortal Arthur Beetson had died, aged only 66, of a heart attack. It was the premature end to a life devoted to rugby league.

Sadly, I never got to see Beetson play. I saw none of his 221 games with Balmain, Eastern Suburbs or Parramatta, none of 29 matches for Australia, only highlights of his landmark State of Origin performance. I never got to see his legendary combination of size, speed and skill that took him to the peak of rugby league. I never saw him pull off one his amazing offloads, bust through an unsuspecting defence or inspire his team to premiership or Origin glory.

But I have heard the tales, those of the boy from Roma making a splash at Redcliffe before being signed to Balmain at 21, where he had an immediate impact, leading Balmain to the Grand Final in his debut season and then assisting them to their final premiership in 1969, despite missing the decider after being sent off in the major semi-final. His time at Balmain came to an end two years later, maligned for his laziness but revered for his brilliance.

It was at Eastern Suburbs though that Beetson matured and became the player who is widely regarded as the best post-war forward to play the game. In his eight years at the club, he led the team to two premierships, three Grand Finals and five finals series, while guiding Australia to a World Series and World Cup win. Under Don Furner and then Jack Gibson, Beetson got fit and developed into a true leader. There was no more fearsome player in the mid-seventies. No more popular one either.

A move to Parramatta yielded little success but his final game was a reserve grade decider. It was also his final year, aged 35, when he was handed Queensland’s captaincy and made the game what it is today by belting teammate Mick Cronin.

He went into coaching after it all finished, doing well in stints with Queensland but not having much success with stints at Eastern Suburbs and Cronulla. He was better served by a life in recruitment, where he could involve himself in the grass roots of the game, his primary love. The strict regimentations and regulations of coaching were never going to suit. Sitting on a country hill, eating a meat pie, telling yarns and watching a talented young kid was more his go.

But people will remember Big Artie however they want to remember him. Larger than life; a true character; a knockabout; a winner.

There are three things though that should forever be remembered about Artie and his position in the game and in Australian history.

He is an Immortal. Some 8,837 players have played top grade football in the NSWRL/ARL/Super League/NRL. Only seven have been named Immortals. They are the best the game has seen. Clive Churchill, Johnny Raper, Reg Gasnier, Bob Fulton, Wally Lewis, Graeme Langlands and Arthur Beetson. There is arguably no more privileged title in Australian sport.

He was the first indigenous Australian to captain a national sporting team. Such was his ability, his qualities as both a player and a man, he broke down social and racial barriers. To his last he was an aboriginal role model and an indigenous leader, who guided by action and supported at the shoulder.

He was rugby league. There was not a moment in his life when he wasn’t a central figure in the game. He never drifted away. He never became embittered with the game, even if he did with its administrators. He loved the code, would go anywhere to watch it, embraced its traditions, was forthright with his views, was always there with a tale. As long as I have followed this great and beautiful game, Artie was never far away from it.

Make no mistake. Arthur Beetson was and always will be a great Queenslander, a great Australian, a great Indigenous role model and a great of the greatest game of all. It is a tragedy that he has passed so early and all of the rugby league community should be in mourning for the loss of someone so important, so deeply influential and immensely talented.

I, personally, will raise a glass, close my eyes and think about how one man could embrace this game and how the game embraced him just as hard back.

Golden Point Gone: It seems that golden point in finals matches will soon be a thing of the past. Let’s hope so. The NRL seems set to revert to the old system of 10-minutes each-way in finals matches, believing it is cruel for a team not to get a chance to respond in extra-time. Finally, common sense is prevailing at the NRL. Hopefully this leads to a general common sense policy at the NRL: fixed schedules, the death of the McIntyre finals system, the Grand Final sprint, painted in-goals, a points-based salary cap. But let’s not ask for too much.

Captain Menace: Des Hasler has decided to appoint Michael Ennis as Canterbury skipper. He was the raging favourite and his appointment comes as no surprise. Ennis has been touted as a future leader and Canterbury is short on senior leadership at present. Hopefully it goes the same way appointing Paul Gallen at Cronulla has, though I have my worries. It is not his ability to rile up either. It is his misunderstanding of his own strengths and weaknesses that is concerning. Ennis needs to realise he cannot kick, that he needs to get quicker out of dummy half and that he cannot play dumb anymore. He is the leader now. He must act like it.

Joey Joins Dogs: In a very smart move by new Canterbury coach Des Hasler, Andrew Johns will work with Canterbury’s halves next year. Trent Hodkinson played very well when assisted by Joey but went quiet last year. Hopefully Johns can reinvigorate the Bulldogs No.7, who seems to have a promising career.

Farewell: Non-descript prop forward Nick Kenny has retired at the age of 29 after 78 NRL matches. Kenny has been lost in the Broncos' prop shuffle after a couple of average seasons hampered by injury. His finest year came in 2009, where he was hard working on both sides of the ball.

1953 Season Preview: From the August 1953 edition of Sports Novels, by Don Gray:

-Wests, Souths and Norths were called West, South and North with South’s nickname being the “Rabbos”.
-Gray gives three teams a chance: West, North and St George.
-South was forced to play one game with eight men.
-Being called the “Bradman of League” seems not to be limited to Dave Brown with Gray putting the label on the Dragons’ Noel Pidding.
-South Sydney was finishing like “Bernborough” but were predicted to finish sixth. They would win a most remarkable premiership.

Rumour Mill: It has been speculated that Canterbury may be looking to offload star prop Aiden Tolman after only one season at the club. The rumour mill suggests he has been shopped around by new coach Des Hasler because of his similarity to James Graham in order to free up cap room for Kieran Foran. Such a move would be moronic, Tolman being the best player on Canterbury’s books at present. Luke Walsh has been rumoured to asked for a release from Penrith in order to join South Sydney. Souths are in desperate need of a halfback with Walsh the latest to be linked to the beleaguered club. The last was James Maloney, who eventually signed with the Sydney Roosters. Maloney is alleged to have asked the Warriors a second time for an immediate release, one which isn’t expected to be forthcoming. Mark Gasnier has been linked to a return to the NRL, rumoured to be the Knights. While this column expects Gasnier to return in the next two seasons, it won’t be with the Knights.

Moniker XIII of the Week: Of course, following the passing of the incomparable Arthur Beetson, we name the greatest all-time Arthurs.

The Arthurs
1. Arthur Conlin (39 games for South Sydney/Western Suburbs)
2. Arthur Patton (117 games for Balmain)
3. Arthur Branighan (95 games for South Sydney)
4. Arthur Butler (137 games for South Sydney/Glebe/Annandale)
5. Arthur Toby (95 games for Eastern Suburbs/Balmain)
6. Arthur Summons (56 games for Western Suburbs)
7. Arthur “Pony” Halloway (150 games for Glebe/Balmain/Eastern Suburbs)
13. Arthur Collinson (40 games for Western Suburbs)
12. Arthur Beetson (221 games for Balmain/Eastern Suburbs/Parramatta)
11. Arthur Clues (50 games for Western Suburbs)
10. Arthur Hennessy (30 games for South Sydney/Eastern Suburbs)
9. Arthur “Snowy” Justice (111 games for St George)
8. Arthur Oxford (165 games for South Sydney/Eastern Suburbs)

The Arthurs haven’t had anyone play in the last 30 years but have an Immortal in Beetson and three other Top 100 players in halves Summons and Halloway and second rower Clues. The front row is tough and full of rep players while Collinson played for Australia. Patton was a try scoring freak and speed maching who ran third in a Stawell Gift.

Correspondence Corner: Nemus, one would hope the League will take a very heavy hand next time Luke decides to act like a cheap punk.

Rabby and Boz, I could not agree more about bringing back the sin bin and the send off for that matter. Neither are used effectively these days. Send offs should be more prevalent. The 10-minute bin should be used for acts of thuggery, repeated infringements and bad penalties. And the 5-minute bin should be brought back for minor offences like fighting, professional fouls and mouthing off. As you say, bring back the bin!

Zig, my sincere apologies, a change of city and a funeral has left me short on typing time. Cricket season these days is a myth. I already miss league and cannot wait for it to come back. Regarding merchandise, it is appalling how much we get gouged in Australia. It is cheaper to by NFL jerseys from than to go and buy an NRL top. Disgraceful.

Cam, Peter Sharp isn’t head coaching material but he certainly looks like he is positioning himself for another head coaching shot and is regarded as a decent assistant with experience. Of course, he did his hip in a video session so perhaps that says it all.

David, Paul Gallen has worked hard at his redemption tale. I doubt Luke has such a capacity.

Warriorman, Luke is infinitely more grubby than Gallen. And regarding the Sharks to Perth, I noted in the November 13 Couch that I was interested to get someone from Perth’s opinion. You seem to represent the majority view. While I maintain it would be a smart thing for Sharks fans, it may not be so great for the League or Perth.

CMMT, I just pass on the rumours. When I comment on them, I comment on them. Do I believe the Stewarts are going anywhere? On the balance, no. But do I believe they are exploring their options? Yes and I believe plenty of clubs are interested. And between Parish and Penna, they have six games of Super League experience in a head coaching role.

Jcrabbit, this article was damning of Luke before he made his ridiculous comments. It was a shameful tackle and anyone who argues otherwise is kidding themselves.

Tony Monero, reserve grade is a must and it is a damned shame we don’t have it any longer. Like you say, player development, club discipline, keeping older players in the game, fans more footy, maintaining club culture. Brad Morrin is the perfect example of why we need reserve grade. He is such a rarity, playing on until the age of 30 but playing just 56 first grade games.

Gareth, it makes my job so goddamn easy and enjoyable when idiotic clubs like Parramatta hire and fire someone like Paul Osborne and then consider Tony Zappia as his replacement.

Riggo, I think the positives outweigh the negatives when it comes to a fixed schedule. The small knock on bad games on free-to-air television from rounds 10-22  is far outweighed by the certainty provided to fans and clubs and the greater parity between clubs when it comes to free-to-air coverage that will presumably come from League control of the draw and not network control.

Watch It: Arthur Beetson’s career was long and distinguished, widely regarded as the greatest prop forward to ever play the game. After a career in Sydney that started with Balmain in 1966 and finished with Parramatta in 1980, Beetson had one final season with Redcliffe in Brisbane, the team he first played senior football with in 1964-65. At 36 years of age, he led the Dolphins to a Grand Final and very nearly a premiership. The ’81 decider came against Souths, led by a young Mal Meninga. Highlights include the field goal just before half-time and Mal Meninga’s astonishing form in the second half. This wasn’t Artie’s greatest moment but arguably no showing displayed his love of the game more than turning out for the Dolphins as a 36-year-old. Watch it here

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