Almanac Rugby League: Covid and Season 2020




In the Foreword to his seminal Beyond A Boundary (1963), the great Trinidadian writer C. L. R. James asked, ‘what do they know of cricket who only cricket know?’


The question struck me as being just as pertinent today as I found myself whiling away more empty hours watching talking heads discuss the footy on my laptop.


Though old school, I am not such a Luddite that I had not not heard of ‘podcasts’ before this bizarre, truncated NRL season turned us into cyber inmates of the Greatest Game of All’s media maze. I was even vaguely aware of how the shows were meant to be accessible online at any time on any given day for those who needed to keep up with every torn hammy, every transfer rumour, every pundit’s regurgitated insights. But as part of a generation that grew up with only one weekly dose of TV footy talk, courtesy of Rex Mossop and his ‘Controversy Corner’, supplemented by the newspaper columns of Alan Clarkson, Ian Heads and Ernie Christensen, my inclination was to dismiss podcasts as a boofhead’s version of endless repeats of Seinfeld, i.e., yadayadayada.


As the world changes, however, so do recalcitrants such as myself and I admit that I have come to anticipate keenly the latest episodes of my favourite gabfests, simultaneously marvelling, as James suggested all those years ago, at what crushing bores so many of these blokes must be outside of their Steeden bubble.


What is new – and most welcome to the traditional format – has been the introduction of the female voice. There is not the slightest hint of tokenism in their presence, for the girls know their stuff and generally present their opinions and observations without the weight of self-importance displayed by some of the retired luminaries. And, to be unashamedly un-PC, the likes of Katie Brown, Danika Mason and Allana Ferguson are easy on the eye, too. Which is a trait not to be scoffed at after a viewing lifetime of close-ups of blokes with heads like beaten favourites. Peter ‘Gollum’ Sterling, Gus ‘Jowls’ Gould and Paul ‘Hammerhead’ Gallen might express the most lucid synopses of what has happened on the field (often without drawing breath and giving the impression that they could do it underwater), but their relentless masculinity only serves to highlight the essential nature of a feminine perspective.


Most indulgent of the podcasts are those that rely largely on former champions’ reminiscences. Recalling past glories and extolling the virtues of revered opponents is never dull, but the regular digressions into how plastered they got at a local watering hole gets a bit tired. I enjoy a naughty tale from a touring team’s bacchanal as much as anyone, but the boys might occasionally be reminded of the peerless Yogi Berra’s dictum: ‘nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.’


For my money, however, Freddie and the Eighth (Fittler and Joey) sets the gold standard in podcasts, notwithstanding the colossal egos of its eponymous stars. Egged on by the starry-eyed boyishness of James Bracey – in much the same way that Paul Kent courts Matty and Blocker – what the podcast frequently endeavours to do, in brief but ingenuous asides, is cast some light on the social and professional milieu in which today’s players – many of whom are barely out of school but already the fathers of young families – are struggling to cope. That is, by confronting James’s challenge, to know their own game better by coming to terms with the reality that exists outside of it. Freddie might be scoffed at by established rough nuts for getting his Origin squad to feel the grass under their bare feet, but his heartfelt, urgent advice for youngsters in the thrall of social media’s corrosive jibberish to ‘turn off your phones!’ is refreshing and maybe, in some cases, even life-saving. More power to him.


Generally lasting little more than five minutes, the last, but booming platform provided by the footy podcast is for the legion of tipsters that have emerged from the woodwork.


These guys’ production qualities (and, dealing with the punt, the genre is dominated by males) vary from a hoodied, unscripted geezer just back from the pub swearing in front of a hand-held camera in Tracey Emin’s bedroom, to cleverly animated and quick-witted gambling chat.


Being parsimonious at the best of times, I’m not crazy about throwing my money away (‘responsibly’ or otherwise), but I’ve stuck with one of these casts because of a fascination with the strangely arcane but, to me, barely comprehensible patois of its two obsessive and garrulous presenters. ‘Overs’ and ‘unders’ and ‘best bets’ – what the hell are they talking about? And why am I still watching them after nearly half an hour when the sun is shining and my dog wants to go for his walk?


Was it the legendary Tommy Raudonikis who said ‘rugby league is a simple game, played by simple people?’


Since the arrival of Covid, nothing is as simple as it once was. I can’t help feeling that the overload of podcasts and virtual reality that the virus has spawned has contrarily distanced us from properly knowing our mighty game.


You can read more of John Campbell’s rugby league pieces click here.

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  1. John, you’re a braver man than me to enter the world of the footy podcast. I find the MSM more than sufficient to cope with. Perhaps I should ask you to let loose on the television commentary – where the Grand Final example, in its hyperbole, was a caricature of itself.

  2. John Campbell says

    Yes, Ian, the hyperbole and bias of the NRL grand-final was hard to take at times. Phil Gould’s insistence that Penrith were on top despite trailing 22-0 at half-time was curious indeed. And have you ever noticed how all any young bloke has to do is run a couple of good games together and he is suddenly ‘special’ and destined for Origin stardom?

  3. Russel Hansen says

    In these COVID times, I listened to podcasts for the first time this year: ‘Ordineroli speaking’ (Neroli Meadows – ex Fox Cricket) and for my rugba leeague fix – completely red & green bias – Rabbitohs Radio, features Steve Mavin & Darren Brown

  4. John Campbell says

    On ‘rugba’ league, Roy and HG were brill, weren’t they, Russell.

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