paul gallen and nate myles“Is that the best you’ve got? C’mon, then. Let’s go.”
That is what Nate Myles said to Paul Gallen after pushing him in Origin I. That is why Gallen immediately threw two crisp punches that have echoed through rugby league since, even if they barely registered in the Queensland forward’s abundant head.
That moment in time is why the game finds itself parked at one of the most critical crossroads in its history, either appealing to new followers or staying true to lifelong fans who fear their game has gone soft.
It is exactly why the referees chosen for game three will be under more pressure than Bill “Hollywood” Harrigan or Barry “Grasshopper” Gomersall or even David “Charles” Manson ever were.
And it is exactly why game three threatens to come down to whether the niggly and grubby tactics of several Queenslanders will be enough to provoke hot-headed NSW players into throwing the first punch.
Whether players, coaches and supporters concerned about the game losing its gladiatorial edge like it or not, there will be no backflip on fighting for the Origin decider at ANZ Stadium on July 17 – and beyond.
C’mon, then. Let’s go.
Every fibre of every footballer, most men and even a few women when challenged in such a way tells them to throw the punch.
“We are playing one of the last gladiatorial sports,” says one NSW combatant. “We are going into battle and we go into it with aggression. You do what you have to do.’’
Better put the fists away, though, Spartacus.
NRL boss Dave Smith has a financial background, and when he watches sponsors walking out the door and school principals threatening to dump rugby league after the Gallen punch, he fears how on-field actions could hurt the bottom line.
Smith and referees boss Daniel Anderson will not be backing down for the decider, and they have the backing of chairman John Grant and most of the commission.
‘‘A line has been drawn in the sand,’’ Anderson said last night. ‘‘The players need to take some responsibility for what they do.’’
The players will also do whatever they can to gain an advantage.
Since Smith introduced the no-fighting edict after the Gallen incident, players privately complain it has given rise to the dark art of the niggle.
A week ago, Manly prop Brent Kite detonated towards the end of the match against the Roosters at Allianz Stadium. Kite is a mild-mannered front-rower at the best of times, but after the game he told teammates he’d been fired up by the niggling tactics of some young players he’d barely heard of.
‘‘We can’t referee against the niggle,’’ Anderson said when told of this. ‘‘We can’t referee gamesmanship. If there is anything illegal, we hope we see it.’’
Inappropriate sledges about someone’s mother are one thing, as are classic squirrel grips and face rubs. But the players’ biggest gripe is the wrestle; of ankle and knee twists and rival players dropping knees into their calves when they are on the ground.
Doubtless, NSW players will point to the incident in game two when Maroons fullback Billy Slater lashed out with an elbow that caught Blues halfback Mitchell Pearce on the cheek. Slater was reported on the field, but the match review committee inexplicably decided it was accidental. That Slater remarked, ‘‘One-all, c—’’ suggests it was accidental payback.
Consequently, Origin III is already bubbling.
For years, the unwritten edict of referees in the furnace of the deciding match of an Origin or Test series is to keep the whistle in the pocket. With the possible exception of a fearless and theatrical Harrigan, no whistleblower wants to be the man who blows the penalty, or sinbin the player, that decides the outcome of a three-match series.
The streetwise players know it, and take advantage of it.
Slater, Cameron Smith, Myles, Sam Thaiday and Justin Hodges are expected to do their best to sneak under the skin of NSW’s short-fused players.
It is understood Blues coach Laurie Daley will urge his players not to take the bait.
Meanwhile, some NSW players have already told this column they will take matters into their own hands if Queensland adopt the same tactics used in last year’s decider.
Standing in the middle of all this will be two Origin referees under more pressure than any other in recent memory.
Anderson wasn’t giving anything away last night, refusing to say if Shayne Hayne and Ashley Klein would be retained after they controlled the first two matches.
Queensland are said to be unhappy with Klein, which says something because they won.
While Hayne will remain, Klein has told others he expects to be sacrificed after the decision to sinbin four players in game two, even if he had sent off Greg Bird and Brent Tate on the advice of video referee Steve Clark.
There is some talk the whistle will be handed to either Matt Cecchin or Jared Maxwell – the two refs the players believe show them the least amount of respect on the field. Ben Cummins was in the middle for last year’s grand final, and many suspect he has fallen out of favour.
Many players’ favourite whistleblower – if there is such a thing – is Gavin Badger, but he isn’t on Anderson’s radar.While the referees announced today might decide the series, they did not decide game two.
That Daley gave some of the poorest performers in that match another chance doesn’t just highlight his sense of loyalty but reveals a belief the Blues were robbed in Queensland.
The Maroons levelled the series after taking ownership of their performance in the first game. The Blues will have to do the same if they are to break out of this seven-year death roll they find themselves in.
C’mon on, then. Let’s go.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.