Gladiators for a new generation: Youngsters show heart in the heat of battle
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Opinion

Gladiators for a new generation: Youngsters show heart in the heat of battle

We all know and love "The Gladiators" photo, of course, the emblematic shot of rugby league at its best, that shows two mud-covered captains at the end of the 1963 grand final – the huge Norm Provan and the diminutive Arthur Summons – wrap their arms around each other in congratulation and consolation. It said everything about good sportsmanship as the highest value of the game, and that no matter how fierce the battle, how hard the hits, once it was over opponents could and should be comrades.

So try this photo as one that could be emblematic of the glories of kids' sport?

'In a world full of Covid – be kind': Brody Grainger, 9, a player for St Edmund's College being comforted by Marist opponent Theo Campton, 10, at a weekend junior rugby game last weekend in Canberra, with Dr Michael Koppman also helping out.

'In a world full of Covid – be kind': Brody Grainger, 9, a player for St Edmund's College being comforted by Marist opponent Theo Campton, 10, at a weekend junior rugby game last weekend in Canberra, with Dr Michael Koppman also helping out.Credit:Kelly Grainger

The set-up was last Saturday, with the big under 10s rugby match between St Edmund's College and Marist College down Canberra way. As the parents roar and the boys go hard, the whole match is proof positive of that old quote: "For boys rugby is the game for the sunshine of their lives, when the world is full and round and there is health and wonder in the air; a game of the mind as well as the body, and a test and source of character. Rugby football inspires all those qualities of skill and courage, magnanimity, co-operation and unselfishness that gives the games its universal appeal to men of free spirit."

But wait! In back play, one of the St Edmund's lads, nine-year-old Brody Grainger, has gone down with an injury to his leg, and it hurts. Running by is 10-year-old Theo Campton, playing rugby for Marist in his first season. A gentle lad, Theo offers to help Brody up, an offer gratefully accepted, even as Dr Michael Koppman comes onto the field to check the injured lad out. All good, Brody, but you need to sit the rest of the match out. As the game goes on, Theo – who has patiently waited – insists on helping his new friend off the field, again an offer gratefully accepted.

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The Gladiators ... Norm Provan, left and Arthurs Summons hug in the mud after the 1963 grand final.

The Gladiators ... Norm Provan, left and Arthurs Summons hug in the mud after the 1963 grand final.Credit:John O'Gready

"It warmed my heart," Brody's mother Kelly, who took the photo, tells me, "and made me realise that in these times, we just need to be kind to each other. My heart skipped a beat seeing Theo helping my son, an opponent. I normally put the lens down when a player is injured – but this was more than just an injury. The depth behind helping a stranger when his cards are down was definitely worth capturing. I captioned the photo: 'In a world full of Covid – be kind'."

Brody is fine and looking forward to Saturday's game. Both schools are having the photo framed and put up in their changerooms as representing the best values the game has to offer. Bravo, you two boys, your parents and your schools. You have done the game proud.

Decision time

The Cameron Smith thing? The issue is whether or not he is going to retire, after the better part of the last two decades playing NRL at the top level. As if you didn't know, there are two schools of thought. The first is that a player of his calibre has earned the right to take his own damn time, and can tell the Storm in his own good time, yes-Mr-Smith, -thank-you-Mr-Smith, -let-us-get-you-a-chair-or-see-you-out-as-you-choose-in-your-own-good-time-Mr-Smith. The other school has it that this is ridiculous – piss, or get off the pot – and after his stunning career, Smith must leave with equal class and announce his decision now so the Storm can plan for next year accordingly.

The NRL world is waiting for Cameron Smith's decision on his future.

The NRL world is waiting for Cameron Smith's decision on his future.Credit:Getty Images

Who is right, and who is wrong?

Too easy, Campese, and next time can I have a hard one?

The second school is right, obviously.

When it comes to Smith and the Storm, he has been a servant without peer in the past. He is doing a wonderful job for them in the present. Is it to much to expect that he comport himself now in a manner to serve the future, too?

Stay or go, but tell them, Cameron Smith, so they can organise for 2021 now. You'll remember when you suddenly announced your retirement from the Queensland team about three weeks before the beginning of the 2018 State of Origin. Your sudden retirement so late in the day was a significant part of destabilising the Queensland team, and they lost the series. Surely, the best thing you can do to leave a cherry on top of your extraordinary career, is to avoid leaving the decision on the Storm to the last minute, too, and give them a fair shake? The decision, one way or another is obviously imminent. It can't be asking too much to make it now!

Sonny's number's up?

Listen, just a quick correction and apology. Last week TFF had an intemperate outburst about what I termed the ludicrousness of the claims that Sonny Bill Williams would draw a global audience of "around 100 million," to watch him come off the bench.

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"That's right!" I bleated like the sad rugby has-been I am, jealous of league's success. "There'll be a million of them or so in Australia no doubt, but so the claim goes, 100 times more than that globally, most of them in countries where rugby league has next to no footprint at all."

I quoted the un-named tv executive who had made the claim.

"Europe will have a particular interest especially in the UK, Ireland and France, who love their rugby union. I estimate around 35 million could watch it across Europe."

This, I said, was surprising, given that an average Six Nations match draws just eight million viewers. As to the 100 million claim globally, I was churlish enough to record my surprise, given that the Super Bowl only pulls another 30 million people around the planet, so a figure three times that amount to see a 36 year-old reserve take the field sounded high?

Short and sweet: Sonny Bill Williams during his return to the NRL last week.

Short and sweet: Sonny Bill Williams during his return to the NRL last week.Credit:Getty

But look, I got it wrong, and I am happy to correct the record.

In fact, Fox Sports – the only network showing the match on tv – recorded average ratings of just over 200,000 people watching in Australia's five capital cities, with another 130,000 odd regionally. And this threw all my other calculations out. For the 100 million figure to have been real, they didn't need 100 times greater than the Australian audience around the globe, they needed 300 times that figure. Stranger things have happened I guess – Donald Trump is President of the United States, after all – but this still sounds a tad unlikely?

I'll be in my trailer. Tell me if you can see a mob with lit torches approaching.

Sonny's number's up again?

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And just when you thought nothing could match the aforementioned absurdity of the claim of 100 million viewers around the globe tuning in to see Sonny Bill Williams come off the bench to make four runs for a total of 23 metres, came the next truly absurd claim from the NRL. That is that Williams' return to the NRL has been worth – and I am not making this up – $32 million to them, in terms of publicity. Yup. All those stories break down, they say, to being worth $7.8m for the print coverage, $8.2m for broadcast and online just under $16m.

Friends, bring it in tight. Last year, pre-COVID, the NRL made a profit of $30 million. For publicity to have a measurable value to a business, it has to show an increase in profits due to said publicity, yes? So when the starting point is $30 million last year, and the claim is that the return of SBW off the bench is going to make as much money and more for the NRL as all of last successful season, I am going to gently record that ... my credulity is strained.

That's a bit rich

Well, you can imagine my surprise. You will recall the government's earnest denials last year that knocking down perfectly fine stadiums to build new ones would have any impact on building rather more urgent things like hospitals and schools? It was surprising then, to see a report on Channel Ten news on Tuesday evening where the government was boasting that money saved by not knocking down the Olympic Stadium would be going to building the new Shellharbour hospital at a cost of $700 million. Might I note the bleeding obvious, that they can't have it both ways?

What They Said

An official explaining why Novak Djokovic was suspended from the American Open after hitting a chair umpire in the throat with a ball: "If you hit someone, you are done."

Novak Djokovic after he inadvertently hit a judge with a ball causing his disqualification from the US Open.

Novak Djokovic after he inadvertently hit a judge with a ball causing his disqualification from the US Open.Credit:Getty

Djokovic: "This whole situation has left me really sad and empty. I checked on the linesperson and the tournament told me that thank God she is feeling OK. I'm extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. So unintended. So wrong. I'm not disclosing her name to respect her privacy." Good apology. But he remains an example of a good fellow whose talent turned him into a dick, yes?

John Coates on next year's Olympics: "It will take place with or without COVID. The Games will start on July 23 next year. The Games were going to be, their theme, the 'Reconstruction Games' after the devastation of the tsunami. Now very much these will be the Games that conquered COVID, the light at the end of the tunnel."

Mick Fanning on how he views sharks: "People look at sharks as these giant killers. But sharks are essentially the janitors of the ocean, doing all the cleaning, making sure oceans aren't overpopulated. They're a huge part of the ecosystem. With my incident, I got extremely lucky, but I also realise the part sharks play. I don't have any ill will towards sharks." He is a good egg.

Matilda Ellie Carpenter on playing for French powerhouse Lyon: "It just feels like I'm in a different world here. In Europe, in general, it's a whole different ball game - it's football, football, football."

Aussie tennis player Jordan Thompson on making the fourth round of the US Open: "Honestly, I thought the [Wests] Tigers would get to a finals series before I made fourth round of a grand slam."

Peter V'landys on Sonny Bill Williams: "SBW reminds me of Usain Bolt. Even people who don't watch athletics normally will have an interest when Bolt runs. Obviously he [Williams] is a great footballer, but he is more than that. He has a charisma and presence that not many sportspeople have. He is bankable."

Stand-in Dragons coach Dean Young after yet another close loss: "Same shit, different day."

Marcus Bontempelli on his game-winning goal for the Western Bulldogs against Geelong, that just made it to keep them in the hunt for the flag: "I just managed to give it enough. Probably a bee's dick in it, I reckon, on the line so pretty close."

H.G. Nelson reminisces about his show with Rampaging Roy Slaven during the Sydney Olympics: "Roy and I also got lucky when we invented a language to unlock the miracle of the mat. 'Hullo Boys', 'Crazy Date', 'the Dutch Wink', 'Spinning Date', 'Battered Sav' and 'Honey I Am Home' suddenly explained the many prongs of the gymnastics competition to an audience that usually swerved when it bobbed up on the sporting agenda." A reader recalled his own favourite comment, as when they ascribed described NZ's sole medal win as "an avalanche of bronze."

Naomi Osaka on her involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement: "I'm vocal because I believe in the movement and want to try to use my platform to facilitate change. That some people have said we as athletes should stick to sports is really insulting."

Alex de Minaur after his US Open elimination in the quarter-finals: "Hopefully with years to come I'll get bigger, I'll get stronger, I'll grow into my body a little bit more, then it will just be another level … I'll put in all the work I can to keep putting myself in these positions. I'm not satisfied with where I am."

Australian leg-spinner Adam Zampa: "I don't really see myself as a cricketer. I see myself as quite a cultured person. I have a lot of thoughts about life. I think about things a little bit differently to other people."

Team of the Week

Alex de Minaur. The 21 year-old Sydney-sider made it through to the quarter-finals of the US Open, going down fighting to the World No.2 Dominic Thiem.

Sam Kerr. Scored on the opening day of the 2020/21 WSL season for Chelsea.

Novak Djokovic. Ejected from the US Open, essentially for being a dickhead.

James Sutherland. After seventeen years in charge of Cricket Australia, and then a two-year break, he has been announced as the new CEO of Golf Australia.

Reds and Rebels. Play off on Saturday night to meet the Brumbies in the final. As for the Waratahs, don't ask, I said DON'T ASK!

Pierre Gasly. Won the Italian Grand Prix. And no, me neither.

Twitter: @Peter_Fitz

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