Does Charlie Cameron need to adjust his game?


Jordan Lewis would like to see Charlie Cameron adapt his game to fit better inside Brisbane’s new-look forward line.

With Joe Daniher now at the club and attracting so much of the ball, alongside Eric Hipwood, Cameron has struggled early to impact the game.

The 26-year-old has kicked four goals across the opening three games and averaged just eight disposals.

Lewis believes Cameron needs to apply more pressure and play a more support role.

“He’s a watch for me. I think Charlie likes to be the man … his mindset and the way that he plays I think has to change,” the four-time premiership Hawk told SEN Breakfast.

“He doesn’t need to look too far, just look at Zac Bailey. Small forwards predominantly are pressure players. Bailey has had 13 tackles for the year, kicked some goals, but mainly he stands out with his pressure.

“Charlie Cameron has only had the four tackles for the year playing that small forward pressure position where you need to help retain the ball in your forward half.

“For me that is a big sign that he needs to change a little bit of his mindset in the way that he attacks the game.

“Defenders know how to play him now. Don’t give him goal side, keep him up the ground.

“That gives him access to the ball. He’s just got to take what the defender is giving him.”

The Lions take on the undefeated Bulldogs at Mars Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

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Tennis umpire’s horror blunder robs game from Aussie Astra Sharma


Rising Australian tennis star Astra Sharma has been bundled out of the Copa Colsanitas in Colombia after a major umpiring blunder cost her a game and started her slide to a loss.

Sharma, who was ranked 134 in the world before the loss has seen her slide 29 places to 163 on the live WTA rankings, was had the game stolen in the third set of her match with Italian Giulia Gatto-Monticone in a 4-6 7-5 6-1 result.

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It was 1-all in the third set with Sharma seemingly heading for a break point at 0-30 when the umpire left his chair to see if the ball had gone out on Sharma’s side of the court.

The ball had which should have seen Sharma go to 0-40 and be looking at three break points but when umpire Luis David Armenta Castro returned to the chair, he called the score 30-15.

The commentators were stunned when he called out the score, saying “I think he miscalled the score — it’s 0-40”.

When Sharma’s next return hit the net, the commentators were equally perplexed when he called the score as 40-15, rather than 15-40.

“It’s 15-40, he’s got a bit flustered now,” the commentator said.

After a short rally, Gatto-Monticone hit it long and it should have been the point to Sharma, but the commentators finally realised the extent of the issue when Armenta Castro called the score out at 40-30.

“No, that’s not right at all,” the commentator said. “That’s the game. The umpire’s got confused and I think the players have got confused as well. This is most unorthodox.”

When Sharma went wide on the next shot, the umpire called the game for Gatto-Monticone with Sharma casting a perplexed figure on the baseline.

“She’s been given this game, Giulia Gatto-Monticone,” the commentator said. “Well, it’s got me doubting myself but that should not have been the game for the Italian. She leads 2-1 somehow in set number three.”

Sharma imploded from there, losing the next four straight games to bow out of the tournament in three sets.

Post-match, Sharma took to Twitter, revealing she was told the umpire had forgotten the score.

“This was outrageous … I was told he was not sure of the score but since I couldn’t tell him how I won the points I could not delay the match arguing with him,” she tweeted.

When tweeted by a fan who had said they hoped she had called the tournament director and that they had “never seen anything like this”, Sharma explained her opponent had sided with the officials.

“Opponent and the ref claimed I had made three errors and therefore since I couldn’t remember how I won points I wasn’t allowed to delay play … I was confused, I asked them to talk to the line umpire who had called at least three of her balls long and he said they had rotated,” she tweeted.

But that wasn’t all.

Fans reactions were mixed with several labelling the umpire and supervisor’s conduct as “absurd”, “outrageous” and “insane” but others also blamed Sharma for not knowing the score.

One such person was Richard Ings, the former CEO of ASADA and the former executive vice-president of rules and competition for the ATP Tour.

Calling it “quite amateur all around”.

Sharma did have some supporters however, with fellow Australian tennis player and world no. 240 Ellen Perez tweeting “There’s actually no excuse for this ridiculous mistake by the umpire and for the supervisor to defend it and blame the player for not focusing on the score is disgusting. Shame on you! So sick of umpires being a contributing factor to the outcome of matches”.

The result sees Sharma well outside the top 100 now and cost her at least $1000 in prizemoney.

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Top US baseball league pulls All-Star Game from Georgia in protest over contentious voting law



Critics of the new voting law say it aims to suppress voting among black people and other racial minorities.

Major League Baseball commissioner Robert Manfred on Friday ordered the sport to relocate its 2021 All-Star Game and amateur player draft out of Atlanta in protest over Georgia’s new voting restrictions.

The removal of the lucrative All-Star Game marks one of the most significant and high-profile gestures after Georgia last week strengthened identification requirements for absentee ballots, shortened early voting periods for runoffs and made it a crime to offer food and water to voters waiting in line.

“I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB Draft,” Mr Manfred said in a written statement.

“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.”

The voting law, which was endorsed by the state’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp, faces legal challenges from civil rights groups and others who say it aims to suppress voting among black people and other racial minorities who tend to vote Democratic.

Mr Kemp said in a written statement MLB’s leadership had “caved to fear, political opportunism, and liberal lies” and later told a television interview the state would not bow to corporate pressure.

“They’re going to come after your ballgame. They’re going to boycott your business if you don’t agree with their way of life,” Mr Kemp told Fox News. “We are not backing down.”

US President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has been sharply critical of the law, recently telling ESPN it was “Jim Crow on steroids,” and welcomed the decision, according to a White House official. Jim Crow refers to racial segregation practices prevalent in the South from the late 19th century through much of the 20th century.

“He said earlier this week that if the decision was made by Major League Baseball to move the All-Star Game, he would certainly support that decision – and now that MLB has made that choice, he certainly does,” the official said.

Mr Manfred said the league took the decision after consulting with clubs as well as current and former players. He said it was finaliing plans for a new host city.

“Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support,” said Mr Manfred, a day after the league opened its 2021 regular season.

The decision set off strong reactions from across the political spectrum.

“What a pathetic and weak decision by @MLB to give in to the Radical Left’s false attack on Georgia voting laws!” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of neighboring South Carolina wrote on Twitter. “I hope the people of Georgia remember this in 2022 when they will have a chance to check/stop the Biden agenda in the Georgia US Senate race.”

Stacey Abrams, an influential voting rights activist and fierce critic of the bill who had nevertheless cautioned against boycotts, said she was disappointed the game would be moved but “proud” of the league’s stance on voting rights.

Ms Abrams, who blamed voter suppression for her narrow loss to Mr Kemp in the 2018 race for Georgia governor, said on Twitter that Republican leaders had “traded economic opportunity for suppression” and she urged “events & productions to come & speak out or stay & fight.”

Former president Donald Trump called for a boycott of “baseball and all of the woke companies that are interfering with Free and Fair Elections.”

“Baseball is already losing tremendous numbers of fans, and now they leave Atlanta with their All-Star Game because they are afraid of Radical Left Democrats who do not want voter ID, which is desperately needed, to have anything to do with our elections,” he said in a statement.

Corporate opposition

“Just as elections have consequences, so do the actions of those who are elected,” Atlanta’s Democratic Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said on Twitter. “Unfortunately, the removal of the @MLB All Star game from GA is likely the 1st of many dominoes to fall.”

The fight is emerging as the latest flashpoint between corporate America and states over voting rights. Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co and Delta Air Lines joined a bid by US companies to challenge the restrictions on Wednesday.

The Atlanta Braves, who were to host the All-Star Game at their four-year-old Truist Park, said they were deeply disappointed.

“The Braves organisation will continue to stress the importance of equal voting opportunities,” the team said in a written statement. “Unfortunately, businesses, employees, and fans in Georgia are the victims of this decision.”

Speculation began almost immediately over which ballpark would assume hosting duties for the All-Star Game, an annual tradition popular with fans.

Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsom offered his state shortly after the league made its announcement, writing on Twitter: “Hey @MLB — feel free to give us a call. In California we actually work to expand voter access – not prevent it.”

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Cricket Australia vs New Zealand, third T20: Rain washed out game in Auckland before ODI series


All eyes will turn to creating a new one-day world record for Australia after rain prevented any more than 19 balls in the T20 decider against New Zealand in Auckland.

Play began after a 90-minute delay, but even as the Kiwis tried to bowl rain was falling, and after 2.5 overs, with two wides bowled, the players raced off.

With the three-match series locked at 1-1, Australia needed to win the decider to maintain a series winning streak which stretches back to 2017 and has included eight series or tournament wins.

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will a new CEO and TV deal make the game successful again?


It’s a balmy evening in January, and the Pearl Ballroom at Sydney’s Crown Towers is looking its finest, with its theatre-style curtains and platinum-coloured wall panelling, its floating chandeliers and mirrored ceiling. Chef Guillaume Brahimi has outdone himself, dishing up a tartare of yellowfin tuna for entrée followed by minute steak with Cafe de Paris butter. There is pinot gris, shiraz and chardonnay, and here to enjoy it, the premier cru of Australian rugby union’s gilded past: David Campese, John Eales and Nick Farr-Jones; the fridge-like Phil Kearns, Gary Ella and even Eric Tweedale, who, at the age of 99, is the oldest living Wallaby. They’re all here, the great and good of “the game they play in heaven”, grazing at the table like buffalo at a watering hole. It’s a rugby Valhalla, with pistachio gateau for dessert.

Tonight’s event has been organised by Rugby Australia, the game’s governing body, with the express purpose of picking a permanent colour for the national jersey. The national team, the Wallabies, have traditionally worn gold, but over the decades that gold has morphed like a lava lamp from the warm ochre of the 1980s to a burnt orange and even, most recently, a traffic-stopping yellow.

“A picture says a thousand words,” Hamish McLennan, RA’s chairman, told the media in the lead-up to the event. “It [the constant colour changes] shows the madness of our inconsistency.”

Tall and urbane, with thick, dark hair, McLennan, who took over the role in June 2020, radiates charm and capability, with the casual confidence of a man who enters a job interview with another offer in his back pocket. He’s positioned tonight’s event as an exercise in unity and esprit de corps, a way of honouring history while building for the future. “We need to decide,” he tells me. “The symbolism is important.”

The fans have already spoken: in an online poll conducted by The Sydney Morning Herald, most popular among the 13,300 votes cast was the jersey worn by the Wallabies in 1991, the year Australia won its first Rugby World Cup. McLennan has said the poll result will have a bearing on tonight. “After all, the fans own the jersey.”

Rugby legends mull over which jersey to pick as permanent Wallabies colours.  From left, Phil Kearns, Gary Ella, Bob Dwyer, David Campese and Tim Gavin.

Rugby legends mull over which jersey to pick as permanent Wallabies colours. From left, Phil Kearns, Gary Ella, Bob Dwyer, David Campese and Tim Gavin.Credit:Edwina Pickles

Soon, the voting begins. There are eight jerseys to choose from. As each one is presented to the room, there’s a show of hands and the numbers noted. Another jersey, more hands, more numbers. A certain dissonance arises: we’re told to forget nostalgia and think about the future, but nostalgia is built into the process. Indeed, for Australian rugby fans, traumatised by decades of defeat, nostalgia is all they have left.

In the end, after several rounds of increasingly raucous voting, of good-natured heckling and faux outrage, the number of jerseys has been whittled down, from eight to six to four to two, and finally, the winner, as duly presaged, the 1991 World Cup-winning design.

Most agree it’s a victory for good taste and sound judgment. But it is also, inevitably, a victory for nostalgia. Once again, to everyone’s relief, Australian rugby is going back to the future.

It’s hard to imagine now, but once upon a time Australians were very good at playing rugby union. The Wallabies won World Cups in 1991 and 1999. In 2000, they retained the Bledisloe Cup against the New Zealand All Blacks for the third year running, and took out the Tri Nations Series, beating the All Blacks and the Springboks, the national team of South Africa. The NSW Waratahs ranked alongside the AFL’s Collingwood and the NRL’s Brisbane Broncos as one of the country’s most recognised sporting brands.

The game brought in big money and colossal crowds: more than 109,000 packed in to Sydney’s Stadium Australia in 2000 to watch the Wallabies and the All Blacks play what has been described as “the greatest ever rugby match”. In 2001, the Wallabies won a three-Test series against the British & Irish Lions. Two years later, when Australia hosted the World Cup, rugby was, for perhaps the first time in its history, a mainstream sport in which the broad mass of Australians were emotionally invested.

The period since then has been a waking nightmare for Australian rugby. The Wallabies have slumped from second in the world to seventh. We haven’t won a Bledisloe Cup since 2002. Crowds and TV audiences have plummeted. There have been intermittent victories over the All Blacks and others; Australia even made the World Cup final in 2015. But such victories have invariably been followed by humiliating defeats, a pattern of false dawns that has bred within the rugby community a culture of scepticism and apathy.

“Rugby is on the bones of its arse right now … and what you’re left with is a bunch of huge men, who we don’t know, running into one another.”

Thousands of fans have drifted away to rugby league or Aussie Rules, disillusioned not only with the on-field performances but with the game’s dysfunctional governance. Despite being run by a coterie of investment bankers and private equity chiefs, rugby has lurched from one financial crisis to another, in some cases staving off insolvency with emergency loans.

“Rugby is on the bones of its arse right now,” says columnist and author Peter FitzSimons. “There used to be a magic and romance to it, and now that magic is gone, and what you’re left with is a bunch of huge men, who we don’t know, running into one another.”

FitzSimons, 59, appeared in seven Tests for the Wallabies in 1989-90, “when we played for the honour of it,” he says, “and got paid $50 a day.” He embodies a certain amateur-era type; grizzled and voluble, given to self-mythologising, with a face that appears to have been hurriedly chiselled from a block of salt.

Like many fans, FitzSimons, who infamously started an all-in brawl against France in 1990 at the Sydney Football Stadium, mourns the raw colour of amateur rugby and the figures it produced: Ray Price and David Campese, the dancing Ella brothers and Roger Gould, with quads like bags of concrete; players like Greg Cornelsen, who cowed the All Blacks with four tries at Eden Park in 1978, and Stan Pilecki, who was once interrupted smoking a cigarette when called off the bench for a Wallabies match in Argentina.

“Rugby has lost its theatre,” says FitzSimons. “There are no characters any more. Now we have 15 professional footballers whom no one can relate to. The key is to know who is representing us again, to care about them, and to see them win.”

There have, in fact, been some wins of late, albeit off the field. For the past 25 years rugby has been broadcast on Foxtel, majority owned by Rupert Murdoch. When the rights became available in 2020, Foxtel offered $31 million a year, down from an annual $57 million payment since 2015. In November last year, McLennan and interim CEO Rob Clarke declined the offer, signing instead with Nine Entertainment Co. (publisher of Good Weekend), in a deal worth $100 million over three years.

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The deal, which starts this year, includes the rights to Wallabies Tests, the women’s game, including the national team, the Wallaroos, and the club schedule. It also covers Super Rugby, a provincial competition which has in the past featured teams from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina and Japan. (The competition has since become an Australia-only model, due to COVID-19.)

Most importantly, the agreement involves a commitment to show a weekly Saturday night Super Rugby game on the Nine Network – the first time the competition has been given a free-to-air platform.

The Nine deal is widely seen as the last best hope for the code. McLennan tells me it could reactivate “rugby’s latent fan base”, a secret army of followers waiting to emerge from their basements wearing Wallabies scarves and waving gold flags.

“The problem before was exposure,” says McLennan. “A lot of people didn’t actually see rugby because they couldn’t afford pay TV. Now with free-to-air, suddenly rugby is going to be more front of mind. Kids will see it and they will want to play, and that makes it bigger, and more money will come into the game.”

“It’s really exciting,” says Stephen Moore, former Wallabies skipper and 129-Test veteran. “[McLennan] is a smart guy and 100 per cent committed to the game being its best.” But Moore acknowledges that rugby’s problems are bigger than a broadcast deal. “The state of the game here is so bad at the moment that it has to be transformed totally. For too long we’ve papered over the problems, and look where that’s got us.”

The Wallabies walk off the field after yet another defeat against the All Blacks, in the 2011 World Cup.

The Wallabies walk off the field after yet another defeat against the All Blacks, in the 2011 World Cup.Credit:Getty Images

In 2017, Rugby Australia moved into a new headquarters, a gleaming, cobalt-blue glass and steel structure in Moore Park, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. There’s a high-performance gym, a 600-square-metre indoor training area and a rooftop running track. From the second-floor boardroom, where I’ve come to meet RA’s new CEO, Andy Marinos, you can see the construction site of the former Sydney Football Stadium, once home to so many of rugby’s mythic victories, and which now, in a metaphor almost too obvious to mention, has been reduced to an enormous crater.

Marinos, 48, has a close-cropped beard and a torso like a concrete bollard. He played rugby at the provincial level in South Africa, where he grew up, and also for Wales, in the early 2000s (he has Welsh ancestry). He then moved into administration, managing the South African Rugby Union. For the past five years, he’s been based in Sydney as the CEO of SANZAAR, the body that runs Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship, an international competition between Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Marinos has arrived at RA at a turbulent time, even by the turbulent standards of Australian rugby. Last year saw the rancourous departure of the then CEO Raelene Castle, a global pandemic and record financial losses. “Rugby has been through a lot,” he says. “But COVID is an inflection point. It gives you the opportunity to restart.”

One of his immediate priorities is financial stability. “That way we can stop being reactive and start being more strategic about how we’re wanting to do things.” The money from Nine should right the ship in the short term. But repairing the game in the long run and making the Wallabies win again will be infinitely harder.

“Rugby has been through a lot, but COVID is an inflection point. It gives you the opportunity to restart.”

“There are so many constituent parts,” says Marinos. “Creating pathways for the players, managing stakeholders, the sponsors, fans and the community game.”

He believes his outsider status is an advantage. “I’m not caught up in the things that happened [in Australian rugby] in the past,” he says. “I don’t have any preference for a particular state, place or person.” He’s free, then, to begin “rugby’s journey of renewal, one that is about being genuine, authentic and listening to people.”

I must look sceptical. “It’s a fantastic opportunity!” he says. “But it’s going to take time to fix. And it’s not going to be easy.”

Almost everyone has a different take on why Australian rugby is broken. Some blame the referees; others blame the rules; it’s AFL’s fault, or rugby league’s. It’s stupid coaches, overpaid players, inept leadership. When I ask Eric Tweedale what he thinks the problem is, he says it all began when the game went professional, which seems as good a place to start as any.

According to legend, rugby began in 1823, at Rugby School in England. For most of its history, it was staunchly amateur. But successive World Cups, in 1987, 1991 and 1995, saw the game explode in popularity, increasing the demands on players, who insisted on being paid. In 1995, the three most powerful southern hemisphere rugby unions, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, formed a body called SANZAR, to oversee Super Rugby and the Tri Nations. SANZAR approached Rupert Murdoch, who paid $US555 million over 10 years for the rights to broadcast the games on his nascent cable network, Foxtel. Sensing the momentum, the world’s governing body, the International Rugby Board, declared the game professional in 1995.

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Australia’s cut of the broadcast rights was $35 million a year. Despite this, the game’s peak body, then called Australian Rugby Union, remained an amateur outfit, with no fewer than 21 committees overseeing everything from finances to player selection. The committees were run by honoraries, whose positions as such gave them considerable status within the rugby community, not to mention good parking and the best seats at games. When former NSW State Bank chief John O’Neill became CEO of the ARU in 1995, he set about abolishing the committees outright, seeding a bitter antipathy from the honoraries, or the “blazer brigade” as he called them, that would bedevil rugby for years to come.

O’Neill didn’t want for confidence. (In his 2007 book, It’s Only a Game, he writes of becoming “quite depressed” to discover how “over-qualified” he was for the job.) But there was no doubting his ability. He broadened the game’s appeal, boosted participation, and presided over the hugely successful 2003 World Cup in Australia which left the ARU with a $45 million profit. He also attempted to centralise authority and take power away from the states, particularly NSW and Queensland, whose squabbling had hobbled the game for years. “They didn’t like that,” he tells me. “They thought I was too influential.”

After the 2003 World Cup, O’Neill still had a year on his contract, and intended to stay until 2007. But his enemies had other ideas. In late 2003, O’Neill, then acknowledged as one of the country’s finest sports administrators, was pushed out. Rugby writer Peter Jenkins wrote that O’Neill’s “only crime was being high-profile, and of daring to challenge his directors”. Australian rugby had begun a long tradition of shooting itself in the foot.

From left, former Australian Rugby Union boss Gary Flowers; John O’Neill, who was pushed out as ARU CEO after antagonising the “blazer brigade”; Bill Pulver is one of eight Shore old boys to be Rugby Australia and NSWRU officeholders in recent times.

From left, former Australian Rugby Union boss Gary Flowers; John O’Neill, who was pushed out as ARU CEO after antagonising the “blazer brigade”; Bill Pulver is one of eight Shore old boys to be Rugby Australia and NSWRU officeholders in recent times.Credit:Edwina Pickles; AAP; Daniel Munoz

O’Neill and his deputy Matt Carroll had wanted to put the $45 million World Cup windfall in a trust. “The idea was that it’d be a future fund,” says Carroll, who is now CEO of the Australian Olympic Committee. “If they’d invested that money back then, it’d probably be worth $100 million now and be producing a yearly income for rugby.”

But they didn’t. Instead, the money was given to the state unions and ploughed into a new competition called the Australian Rugby Championship (ARC), featuring eight teams from around the country. The ARC, which was announced in mid-2006 by then CEO, Gary Flowers, was intended as a pathway from the club system to Super Rugby. But the model was flawed from the outset. The teams had no history and no local followings. It was expensive and attracted almost no sponsorship. It also detracted from the established club scenes in Sydney and Brisbane, angering the game’s grassroots. By the end of the first season, the ARC had lost $4.7 million, with forecast losses of $8 million by the end of 2008.

At the same time, the ARU was struggling with inflated player salaries. When rugby went professional in 1995, Murdoch had faced competition from rugby league, which had attempted to sign up most of rugby’s best players. At the same time, fellow media mogul Kerry Packer was backing a rival competition called World Rugby Corporation. Players were in demand, and in order to win, Murdoch was forced to pay top dollar. Salaries skyrocketed, and were pushed even higher thanks to competition from cashed-up clubs in the northern hemisphere, some of which had billionaire owners.

“In comparison to other sports, rugby players were getting a higher proportion of the revenues,” says management consultant Michael Crawford, who has advised the ARU for 20 years. “This left less money for development and created further anger at the community level.”

Flowers stood down in 2007, opening the way for O’Neill and Carroll to return. They immediately scrapped the ARC. But the performance of the Wallabies, the financial engine of Australian rugby, was going from bad to worse. In 2009, Australia lost four matches to the All Blacks, two to the Springboks, and one to Scotland. Super Rugby was also faltering. The three Australian teams, the ACT Brumbies, the NSW Waratahs and the Queensland Reds, had all at one time or another enjoyed considerable success. In 2006, a fourth Australian team, the Perth-based Western Force, was added to the competition, followed by a fifth team, the Melbourne Rebels, in 2011. The idea was to give the game a national footprint and generate more broadcast dollars.

But it soon became apparent that Australia didn’t have enough talent to go around. According to a 2017 Senate standing committee report into the future of Australian rugby, the expansion from three to four to five teams saw a step down in performance, from Australian sides winning 60 per cent of their games to 50 per cent to 40 per cent. When the teams began to go broke, their owners – the state unions – ran to the ARU for a handout. By the end of 2011, the national body was funding the Super Rugby outfits to the tune of $25 million a year.

The obvious answer was private ownership. “In the US and Europe, 90 per cent of professional sporting clubs are privately owned and have strong business models,” says Colin Smith, director of the advisory firm, Global Media and Sports. “And that’s because they focus on the profit motive.”

“The parochialism and backward thinking is crippling rugby. It’s a self-made destruction.”

In 2008, Smith was charged by the ARU with getting the state unions to consider private ownership. But according to Smith, “the general reaction [from the states] was, ‘Under no circumstances’.” A board member of one union told Smith that he didn’t want to sell his Super Rugby team because he might miss out on free tickets to the games. “The thinking [was] incredibly myopic,” says Smith. “It just shows a complete lack of understanding of how the business of sports works.”

Smith has worked in sports for 30 years. There is virtually no market that he has not run the ruler over, no major club that he has not scrutinised. But rugby is special to him. “The first game I attended was in the early ’90s at Twickenham between England and the Barbarians. It was absolutely scintillating, and I was hooked.” But he now despairs for the game in Australia. “The parochialism and backward thinking is crippling rugby. It’s a self-made destruction.”

Dejected Wallabies players after losing to Argentina in 2018. The once high-flying national team has slipped to seventh in the world rankings.

Dejected Wallabies players after losing to Argentina in 2018. The once high-flying national team has slipped to seventh in the world rankings.Credit:Getty Images

Rugby is played in more than 120 countries, with 9.6 million registered players worldwide. Outside Australia, the game is booming: the 2019 Rugby World Cup, held in Japan, drew a total broadcast audience of 857 million over six weeks. (When Japan played Scotland, 54.8 million people in Japan watched it on television, nearly half the population.) Such events showcase the lore and legend of each national team, together with their signature playing styles: the mercurial French, the doughty Scots, the flamboyant Fijians, and the Welsh, whose scrum could push down mountains.

The Wallabies used to be famous for “running rugby”, a swaggering brand of free-flowing football made famous by the Ella brothers and David Campese, among others. Now, not so much. Indeed, the saddest thing a rugby fan can hear is that the game in Australia has become boring. Observers blame the referees, who have become increasingly pedantic. But the complexity of the rules is also a problem, especially compared to rugby league or AFL.

For years, rugby administrators have tinkered with the laws to make the game a better spectacle, but it’s a slow process. “Rugby is a global game,” says Brett Robinson, former Wallaby and current member of the World Rugby Council, which oversees laws, regulations and player welfare. “League and AFL are essentially domestic sports. It’s easy for them to make rule changes, but we have to influence over 100 nations to make changes that can be applied across the world and ultimately at a World Cup every four years.”

Rugby connoisseurs claim the complexity of the game is part of its beauty; that rugby is chess to rugby league’s checkers. But sometimes checkers is all a sports fan has time for. This is especially true in Australia, which has no less than four football codes – league, union, AFL and soccer – all competing for hearts and minds. And in an era when sport has become mass entertainment, being dull is death.

Rugby connoisseurs claim the complexity of the game is part of its beauty; that rugby is chess to rugby league’s checkers.

Growing rugby’s fan base is essential. One way of doing that is by winning games; the other is to create new audiences. “To me, the biggest wasted opportunity has been the failure to bring more people outside the narrow culture of rugby into the sport,” says James Curran, a Sydney University history professor who is writing a book about David Campese. “Rugby officialdom hasn’t been able to move beyond those who were supporting the game in the 1970s.”

Most of rugby’s elite players are still drawn from a small number of private schools in Sydney and Brisbane. The same goes for the game’s leadership, at both national and state levels, an inordinate number of whom come from Sydney’s most exclusive private schools, including Newington, Scots or St Joseph’s. One school in particular, Shore, figures prominently.

No fewer than eight recent RA and NSWRU office holders are Shore old boys, including current chairman, Hamish McLennan, recently departed CEO Rob Clarke and director Phil Waugh.

When the ARU went looking for a new CEO in 2012, it conducted what it described as a worldwide search before turning up Shore old boy Bill Pulver, in Sydney’s affluent harbourside suburb of Mosman. (Living, as it happened, right next door to ARU director John Eales). Pulver received a ringing endorsement from then ARU chairman, Michael Hawker, another Shore old boy who had played rugby with Pulver in the school’s First XV some 35 years earlier. “The whole thing is so incestuous,” says Colin Smith. “It’s not good for the game.”

It also reflects a fundamental disconnect to the game’s grassroots, which attracts a far broader demographic. “Many of our players are scaffolders or concreters,” says Craig Moran, general manager of Western Sydney Two Blues rugby club, in Parramatta. “They’re not rich people.”

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Founded in 1879, Two Blues is a Shute Shield stalwart. The club is operated almost entirely by volunteers, including Dennis “Muncher” Garlick, the 71-year-old waterboy, and the helpers who run the canteen, which provides much of the club’s revenue. But clubs like Moran’s have over the years been variously ignored or held in contempt by the ARU. In 2014, when the ARU was facing insolvency, Pulver requested the clubs forgo their annual $100,000 grants. Two years later, when the clubs requested the grants be reinstated, Pulver refused, reportedly saying he didn’t want them to “piss it up the wall”. (Pulver declined to take part in this story.)

State administrators have been equally out of touch. For decades the NSWRU has appointed a development officer for Shute Shield clubs, including Two Blues. But, according to Moran, it never understood the cultural dimension of the job. “Western Sydney has a large Islander population but we didn’t have any development officers who were Islanders. Development officers have to understand the social conditions. You can’t just send someone from Manly to be a DO in Merrylands.”

Moran says the game is “cannibalising itself”. Recent years have seen lavish pre-season launches at exclusive nightclubs; catered corporate events and runaway overstaffing. Last year it emerged that RA had spent $19 million on corporate costs in 2019, and just $4.3 million on community rugby, and was employing more than 200 people.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Scott Allen, who was appointed assistant coach to the women’s national rugby team, the Wallaroos, in 2016. “I remember walking into ARU headquarters on my first day and there were people and desks everywhere. And I thought, ‘What the f… are all these people doing?’ ”

Pulver had some wins, including a $285 million, five-year broadcast deal with Foxtel. But he also oversaw the disastrous axing of the Western Force Super Rugby team in 2017. The decision enraged Force fans, and saw the West Australian premier threaten to sue the ARU. Thousands of people protested in Perth, led by mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest.

“The process was a charade,” Forrest tells me. “It was shocking leadership and governance.” Former Wallaby Nathan Sharpe described the decision on Twitter as “the biggest mistake the ARU could have made”. The episode effectively ended Pulver’s term. He quit, in August 2017, pocketing a $300,000 bonus on his way out the door.

RA chairman Hamish McLennan, left, and CEO Andy Marinos are aiming
to “rebuild” rugby.

RA chairman Hamish McLennan, left, and CEO Andy Marinos are aiming
to “rebuild” rugby.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

Not all of rugby’s woes are self-inflicted. You can’t blame administrators for time zone differences, which mean that games involving Australian teams overseas are often broadcast here at 3am or 4am. It’s also hard for Australia to compete with the financial might of the northern hemisphere unions, which regularly poach our best players. Then there’s Israel Folau, the star Wallaby whose homophobic social media posts wound up costing RA millions of dollars in legal fees and saw the game ensnared in a high-profile debate over free speech that it could not win.

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Yet infighting and opportunism continue to poison the game. Last year saw a clumsy attempt to overthrow the RA board, when 11 former Wallaby captains wrote an open letter accusing the game’s leadership, headed by CEO Raelene Castle, of mismanagement. Castle, who is from New Zealand, had taken over from Pulver in 2017, and was wrestling with the financial impact of COVID. At the same time, she had put the broadcast rights out to tender, snubbing long-time partner Foxtel. Castle’s decision would eventually deliver a huge win for rugby, opening the way for a $100 million deal with Nine, part of which involved a free-to-air component.

But at the time Foxtel was furious. Castle found herself under attack from journalists at News Corp (Foxtel’s majority owner). Then came the captains’ letter, the public faces of which were Nick Farr Jones and former Foxtel commentator Phil Kearns. The letter was regarded by many as baldly self-serving of Kearns, who had lost out to Castle for the CEO’s job two years before. Kearns denies this.

“No one from Foxtel ever rang me and said they wanted me to run for CEO,” he tells me. “[And there] was never any talk by the captains explicitly of me going into the CEO role.” It was telling, however, that Kearns and the others had not intervened when the game faced insolvency under Pulver. “In any case,” says Sam Bruce, rugby writer at ESPN, “if they really wanted to help the game, there was nothing stopping them from calling Castle and saying, ‘How can I help?’ ”

“The whole episode painted a really ugly picture for the game right when what it needed most was positivity and cohesion.”

As far as Bruce is concerned, the coup was just another power play. “Castle was an outsider,” he says. “She was a Kiwi, a woman, and she didn’t live in Mosman. Her appointment caught rugby’s old boys’ establishment off guard. They thought they were losing control.” Castle resigned in April 2020, her decision prompted by what the then chairman Paul McLean described as a campaign of “abhorrent” bullying, both online and from vested interests in the media. Says Bruce: “The whole episode painted a really ugly picture for the game right when what it needed most was positivity and cohesion.”

In 2012, John O’Neill put together a presentation using a report by US management guru Jim Collins. Collins outlines five key stages of an organisation’s collapse, including Inaction, Crisis and Dissolution. On the last page O’Neill had written: “Where is Australian rugby?” One could ask the same question now.

A commentator on the sports website The Roar suggests the game is facing a “multi-generational battle” to restore its fortunes. A GreenandGoldRugby.com reader proposed that rugby go amateur again. Peter FitzSimons, meanwhile, believes the game’s worst days are behind it. “We have crossed the Valley of Death and are slowly starting to climb to the other side.”

Hamish McLennan is similarly upbeat. “We’ve got some great young players coming through [at the elite level],” he says, when we meet at RA’s Moore Park HQ. “And there’s been a lot of good work reconnecting with the grassroots.” McLennan has stopped the soap opera at head office, and established an advisory board to bid for the 2027 World Cup (Phil Kearns is the executive director). “That’s the light on the hill,” nods McLennan. “We stand a pretty good chance of getting that.”

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Private equity is also in the picture. Luxembourg based CVC Capital Partners has invested $1.2 billion in European rugby, most recently buying a 14 per cent stake in the Six Nations, a yearly tournament between Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, England and Italy. And American group Silver Lake Partners reportedly plans to put $NZ465 million into New Zealand rugby in return for a 15 per cent share of commercial rights. McLennan says a number of private equity outfits, including CVC, Bruin Capital and Silver Lake, are likewise looking at Australia.

It’s unclear what such an investment would look like. “Do we do it at a competition level, do we include the clubs or not, do we sell a part of the Wallabies or the whole organisation? We have to figure that out,” says McLennan.

There’s a lot at stake. “We’re on the ground floor of a complete rebuild for rugby. But it’s taken a long time getting to this point, and it’ll take quite a few years to get out of it.”

For those who believe the game is beyond salvation here, he points to Argentina, who beat the All Blacks for the first time ever last year. “That’s the thing with sport,” says McLennan. “You can come from nowhere and surprise people.”

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.



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Swans and Demons, Lions, Blues and Giants — which AFL teams are winning and losing the early expectations game?


Two rounds into the 2021 AFL season, and there are plenty of talking points — from higher scoring to the medical sub, to the first enforced “flexibility” of the league’s fixture due to COVID concerns.

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But as always, no matter how early we are in the season, the expectations game is playing out across the league.

It’s not a simple matter of looking at the ladder and pointing to the top three as the winners and the bottom two or three as losers.

How good a team was the year before, player additions and losses, and the general vibe coming out of a club in the pre-season all feed in to how performances are viewed.

Port Adelaide and Richmond at the top of the ladder is not a surprise. The Suns have recent history of starting the year strongly, so their presence in sixth spot (at 1-1) is not a total shock. Neither is the sight of the Kangaroos at the foot of the table.

So who are the early surprises? Who are beating expectations? And which teams are not meeting the bar?

Above expectations:

Sydney Swans

The word out of the Sydney Swans camp was strong ahead of the new season, largely driven by enthusiasm over the team’s three top draftees, Logan McDonald, Braeden Campbell and Errol Gulden.

The feeling was that the Swans were still in rebuild mode but with some pundits thinking that enough improvement was on the cards for them to make a decent move up the ladder. Then came the first two rounds — and it’s fair to say that expectations were exceeded.  

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McDonald’s presence and marking ability, Gulden’s all-around game and Campbell’s brilliant disposal formed part of an impressive, attacking Swans gamestyle that proved too much for the Lions and Crows.

Callum Mills’s starring role in the midfield, Isaac Heeney provides another dangerous target up front, then add emerging talents like Chad Warner and Sam Wicks into the mix, and the future looks very bright.

And that’s without even mentioning the return of Lance Franklin.  

People shouldn’t be getting carried away — the potential reality check for John Longmire’s men is this weekend against Richmond.

But even with a loss, upcoming games against Essendon and GWS could see Sydney sitting at an unlikely 4-1. 

Melbourne

There is some excitement about the Demons’ play this season, and much of it comes from dynamic forward Kysaiah Pickett (right).(

AAP: Scott Barbour

)

The Demons finished last season in ninth spot, with frustrations mounting that a star-studded midfield group was not translating into more wins on the table.

Melbourne moved in the off-season, trading for Kangaroos forward Ben Brown, in hopes that he could be the catalyst for a solid run at finals and higher.

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Not too many predictions had them achieving their goal, with most putting them still just outside the eight.

But after an opening two rounds, there is definitely more energy about the Dees, and more importantly, more scoring.

From an (admittedly shortened game) average of 61 points a game in 2020, Melbourne is now hitting 85.5 per game in early 2021. 

Both the excitement and extra scoring appear linked to the rising influence of Kysaiah Pickett, who is giving opposition defences real trouble.

The next four games are GWS, Geelong, Hawthorn and Richmond. If the solid start is not a false dawn, the Demons should be 4-2 or even 5-1 at round six, which would build a platform to the type of season the club wants. 

Below expectations:

Brisbane Lions

Brisbane had a brilliant 2020, before a loss to Geelong made it two consecutive top-two finishes without a grand final appearance. The Lions signed Joe Daniher from the Bombers as the missing piece of their puzzle.

A group of dejected AFL players walk off the field.
The Lions came close to beating the Cats — but there is no more margin for error for Chris Fagan’s team.(

AAP: Scott Barbour

)

The expectation was that they would be top four again, if not top two, if not top one.

Already it looks a lot different. The Lions appeared caught on the hop by the Swans in round one, unable to cope with the new attacking playing style.

A trip to Geelong brought a narrow loss — and if not for a red-hot missed free kick in the dying moments they would have been 1-1. But the Lions were far from their best. 

There are some mitigating circumstances. The season-ending knee injury to Cam Rayner has robbed them of a real impact player.

At 0-2, things are bad but not irretrievable. Unfortunately for Chris Fagan’s men, the fixture doesn’t get any easier with Collingwood — at Docklands, rather than the Gabba, thanks to Queensland’s COVID outbreak — followed by the confident Bulldogs in Ballarat next on the agenda.

The pressure is on right now — they can turn things around, but If Brisbane hits round five against Essendon at 0-4, then the damage might already be done.

Carlton

The off-season additions of Giants rebounding defender Zac Williams and Suns’ power-runner Adam Saad were supposed to add more dash to a Carlton side that needed it totake them to the next level.

Expectations were to improve at least somewhat on last year’s 11th place and to challenge for the eight if not break in. After eight quarters of football, that looks like a big ask.

The issues start with the Blues’ defence. In this new, more open game of AFL, being able to bend, not break, at the back is important.

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Carlton’s opponents have had 30 and 26 scoring shots against them in successive weeks, and purely on goals scored the Tigers and Magpies had more points on the board than the Blues’ totals both rounds.

The other problem is that the Blues seem to lack that special someone up forward to kick the bags that’ll be needed if they continue to concede as many goals as they have.

Fremantle and Gold Coast offer the potential for wins to kickstart their season, but then Port Adelaide and Brisbane loom on the horizon.

Add injuries to Jack Martin and Zac Fisher to the mix and the heat is likely to be rising on coach David Teague.

GWS

The pure maths of the trade period made it clear that the Giants were probably out of the premiership window.

A group of AFL players look around at each other as they wander off the ground.
The Giants are really struggling early in the season, and the pressure is rising at GWS.  (

AAP: Richard Wainwright

)

The departures of key forward Jeremy Cameron (to Geelong), Williams (to Carlton), defender Aidan Corr (to the Kangaroos), Zac Langdon to the Eagles and midfielder Jye Caldwell to the Bombers certainly brought expectations down at GWS.

But the view after the first fortnight of season 2021 is worse — a lot worse — than expected.

The loss to St Kilda in round one was disappointing, but it was the the way the Giants went down to Fremantle that set warning bells off.

The team’s midfield dominance is not there, the road to a winning score looks blocked for now, and the team — 0-2 for the first time in eight years — is in relatively uncharted territory.

They desperately need some injured players to come back, particularly forward Jesse Hogan and classy midfielder Lachie Whitfield. 

With Melbourne, Collingwood, Sydney and the Western Bulldogs to come, the Giants’ next win could be quite a way away.

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Man creates Suez Canal video game to capture ‘gargantuan’ task of freeing boat


A

Twitter user has created a video game to capture the “gargantuan” task of freeing the Ever Given boat from where it is stuck in Egypt’s Suez Canal.

The game – which only has three controls – allows users to try to free the boat, with the message “it’s super stuck” appearing when attempted.

Eric Wilder, who designed the game in around two hours, told the PA news agency that users play “as a tiny bulldozer, given the gargantuan task of freeing it.”

On Wednesday morning, Mr Wilder, a book cover designer from Rochester New York said the game had amassed 38,000 views and 10,000 gameplays since he launched it on Friday.

He told PA: “I saw a number of memes going around featuring the boat and bulldozer and thought it was so funny.

“I knew I could spin it into quick game – I’ve taken up retro game development as a pandemic hobby.

“It took me a little over two hours to put together.”

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The Ever Given, a skyscraper-sized container ship that carries cargo between Asia and Europe became stuck on Tuesday in the narrow man-made canal.

Photos showed the ship’s bow touching the eastern wall of the canal, while its stern looked lodged against the western wall, in an event that experts said they had never seen before in the Suez Canal’s 150-year history.

The ship remains stuck in the canal despite several attempts to free it, and it is unclear when the route, through which around 10% of world trade flows, will reopen.

Mr Wilder told PA: “Perhaps when the barge breaks free I’ll update the game with a new version where you can set the boat on its way.”

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Clayton Oliver and Max Gawn lift Melbourne to victory in Spud’s Game


Christian Petracca was trying too hard to have an impact, three times kicking the ball over the boundary on the bounce when trying to produce a miracle.

At the other end King was playing smart and Melbourne looked adrift when May, Gawn and Jake Lever all flew for the ball as the young Saint waited to crumb and goal.

In the past two seasons that might have been it for Melbourne but they are made of sterner stuff in 2021 with the May-Lever defensive combination giving them faith to work on their system rather than worry about the margin which had blown out to 16 points in St Kilda’s favour.

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The Demons kicked the next five goals with the second in the sequence a special effort from the exciting Pickett. The small forward crumbed a ball in the middle of a pack then danced his way through the bodies as though his opponents were statues to snap a goal over his head.

Pickett has pace and in a five-minute patch the game was his as he created opportunities but was unable to convert. Unfortunately for Melbourne, he wasn’t alone as they dominated play but could only stretch their lead to 20 points, kicking inaccurately and wasting chances.

So when Lever, then Luke Jackson dropped relatively simple marks and Jack Steele pounced to kick two captain’s goals the contest was alive with the possibility Spud’s Game promised when former Melbourne champion Garry Lyon gave a moving speech about the importance of sharing your feelings before the first bounce.

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But Melbourne steadied, with Petracca becoming more team-oriented, Brayshaw and Langdon winning on their wings and Adam Tomlinson solid in the air.

On the back of that defence and Oliver constantly raking up the ball from a stoppage Melbourne were too good as St Kilda wait for the return of key players.

BEST:
St Kilda
Steele, Howard, Gresham, Ross
Melbourne Oliver, Salem, Gawn, Tomlinson, May, Langdon, Pickett
VOTES:
Clayton Oliver (Melbourne) 8
Christian Salem (Melbourne) 7
Max Gawn (Melbourne) 7
Kysaiah Pickett (Melbourne) 7
Dougal Howard (St Kilda) 6

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Streaming highlights March 26 to 31 – The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, Black Hands & Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal




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Newcastle Knights star Mitchell Pearce has carried a huge burden as he approaches his 300th game


He was the game’s first pin-up; a non-drinking fitness fanatic who never tired while charging at the line, black electrical tape pinning back his ears, and shoulder pads so big they belonged on the set of Dynasty.

The 1989 grand final was the second saddest day in the game’s history because Balmain’s heartbreaking extra-time loss to Canberra denied Wayne a premiership.

The saddest day came the following year when he played his last game at Leichhardt Oval. Tears were shed from glass eyeballs, such was the emotion of his farewell lap of honour.

Wayne Pearce after the 1989 grand final.Credit:Fairfax

From the moment he started playing, Mitchell Pearce has been walking in those legendary footprints.

It’s a familiar tale for sons of a gun: narky parents of other children and rival coaches of other teams believing selection in junior rep teams is purely based on name, not ability, and so it was with Pearce.

It’s little wonder he decided to play anywhere but the Tigers when an NRL career beckoned.

Then again, playing halfback for a glamour club like the Roosters meant the harsh glare of the spotlight wasn’t far away.

He made his debut at 17 and it was a baptism of fire: first under the bizarre coaching of Chris Anderson; then a rookie coach in Brad Fittler; then the mind games of Brian Smith.

Trent Robinson came along, so did Sonny Bill Williams, and by the end of 2013 Pearce had secured the premiership his father could never quite grasp.

For some, it still wasn’t enough because when Pearce wasn’t wearing the Tricolours of the Roosters he was wearing most of the blame for NSW’s losses in State of Origin.

The Blues No.7 jumper can be a poisoned chalice and it was handed to him when he was 19, much to the dismay of his coaches at club level who knew how much Origin defeat tortured him.

Each time NSW fell agonisingly short against the greatest Queensland team in history, it was Pearce who inevitably and unfairly copped it in the head.

Mitchell Pearce bore the brunt of NSW criticism during Queensland’s period of dominance.

Mitchell Pearce bore the brunt of NSW criticism during Queensland’s period of dominance.Credit:Jonathan Carroll

Each player handles pressure differently. Cameron Smith never carried emotion onto the field. Andrew Johns found it was his sanctuary from the turmoil of the real world.

When Pearce is free and content, it’s reflected in the way he plays. The game slows down. Short kicks don’t dribble over the dead-ball line, cut-out passes hit their mark instead of the turf.

Turmoil off the field brings chaos on it. His response is to play harder and faster, and it only compounds the errors and the criticism.

The criticism that hurt most came from Johns after NSW lost Origin II in 2017.

Johns detonated on Channel Nine because Pearce hadn’t directed the play at an injured Johnathan Thurston.

“At the end of the day, Joey was right,” Pearce said in response. “We did play a bit dumb.”

Behind the scenes, he was crushed but the relationship was quickly repaired. Johns pushed hard for Pearce’s inclusion in the Blues side in 2019 when injuries ripped through Fittler’s team.

In the final minute of the decider, with the scores locked, Pearce had the maturity and vision to spread the ball wide, from inside the Blues’ half, ending in James Tedesco’s miracle try.

As players and support staff ran towards the Blues fullback, Johns was seen embracing Pearce soon after. He knew how much it meant.

Those highs on the field helped negate the lows off it, which invariably came when Pearce made poor choices, always fuelled by alcohol.

The girl in the yellow dress. Simulated sex with a poodle-cross on Australia Day. The flirty text to the club staffer whose boyfriend is good mates with some of the team …

They sound like episodes of a sketch comedy show. He was sledged, mocked and hounded for all of them.

Each time, Pearce stood in front of the cameras and trembled with emotion as he delivered very public mea culpas, promising to change his ways.

Many club bosses go missing in a time of crisis, preferring to hide behind press releases. Pearce has fronted huge media packs every time.

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The Australia Day indiscretion led to an eight-match suspension. The punishment did not fit the crime and many suspect it was only that heavy-handed because his father is an ARL commissioner.

That sanction also stopped him from carving out his own little slice of history on Sunday.

In 2015, at the age of 26 and 115 days, Pearce was the youngest player in history to reach 200 games. On Sunday, 12 days shy of his 32nd birthday, he becomes the fifth youngest to reach 300. Fittler is the youngest.

Pearce reaches the milestone playing for the Knights, not the Roosters, who he never wanted to leave.

He was blindsided by the club’s decision to sign Cooper Cronk from the Storm in late 2017. It hurt because he felt the discussions had been going on for months.

Cronk was in camp with the Kangaroos during the World Cup when he told the Storm players he was joining the Roosters.

There’s a misconception Cameron Smith was furious about Cronk joining a powerhouse club like the Roosters. In truth, his first instinct was to call Pearce to convince him to sign with the Storm.

The Roosters’ move for Cooper Cronk took Mitchell Pearce by surprise.

The Roosters’ move for Cooper Cronk took Mitchell Pearce by surprise.Credit:SMH

Robinson genuinely wanted Pearce to stay. So did chairman Nick Politis. But how it would work alongside Cronk and Luke Keary was unclear.

The Sea Eagles and Sharks also circled but, in the end, Pearce arrived in Newcastle on big dollars with a point to prove.

The city has changed significantly since it won its last premiership in 2001 but the supporters of its footy side remain loyal and shrewd.

Pearce was pleasantly stunned by the warmth he received when he first arrived. Along with Kalyn Ponga, in Pearce they saw hope after watching their beloved Knights claim three consecutive wooden spoons.

The rebuild has been slow but, under new coach Adam O’Brien, they reached the finals last year.

Then Pearce stuffed up.

When his wedding was cancelled earlier this year, after it was revealed he had sent flirty messages to a Knights staffer, it was a very private matter with very public consequences.

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It caused division in the side and there was talk some of his teammates wouldn’t play with him. They certainly didn’t want him as their captain.

Tensions were calmed, Pearce stood aside as skipper and he’s now signed a one-year extension on his contract.

The game hasn’t always been kind to him. He hasn’t always been kind to himself.

He will never be considered one of the greats, nor will he be inducted into the Hall of Fame like his father.

But Pearce is a study in strength, of dusting himself off and going again, because how many of us would’ve just walked away from the money and the fame and done something else?

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