By Steve Ricketts – Former Chief Rugby League Writer, The Courier-Mail.
It was reassuring to see that The Courier-Mail’s Mike Colman was on the ‘same page’ as me, in relation to the reintroduction of weight divisions in rugby league.
League officials says kids are leaving the game through a lack of enjoyment. As Mike pointed out, nothing is going to reduce the enjoyment factor, for a small framed child of nine or 10, than getting steam rolled by an Islander kid who is bigger than their father.
There – someone in the mainstream media addressed the ‘Islander problem’, when it comes to League’s diminishing player ranks. League officials tip toe around the subject, frightened of causing offence. They must know that many people now refer to the NRL as the IRL – Islander Rugby League.
One area where Mike Colman and I differ is a reference to NRL team listings reflecting changes in Australia’s demographics. As I have pointed out a number of times, having 50 percent of the NRL playing ranks made up of Islanders – and that is a figure produced by the League itself – is hardly reflective of the general population. I don’t think 50 percent of those in desk jobs at NRL HQ are Pacific Islanders.
No, the playing figures suggest that Asian communities are shut out altogether, and that the still predominantly Anglo/Celtic – Anglo/Saxon – ‘Mediterranean’ Australian population has decided that league (and union for that matter) is too weighted (excuse the pun) towards Islanders, so they are looking at other sports, such as Aussie rules and soccer.
The Gold Coast Titans chose one of Australia’s most beautiful areas for their recent bonding exercise – an all night, 51km rainforest trek.
Current players, as well as club legends, Preston Campbell, Mat Rogers and Ashley Harrison, walked from O’Reilly’s Guest House at Green Mountain, to the Springbrook Plateau.
I have walked most of the designated tracks in this area, and, as a young bloke, residing at Murwillumbah, sometimes drove to Springbrook to run the Purlingbrook Falls Circuit.
But I have not done the ‘Long Walk’ from O’Reilly’s to Springbrook, and, while it is something I may do down the track, I certainly won’t be doing it at night.
It’s good to see the club acknowledge the past, with the inclusion of Campbell, Rogers and Harrison. They would have done it easily, with Rogers and Harrison both triathletes, while Campbell has always kept in shape, and was playing local league on the Coast until just recently. (Harrison also made a comeback – for Tugun).
Titans’ ‘Head of Performance and Culture’, Mal Meninga recently asked me to compile a history of league on the Coast, and in the Tweed, Brunswick, Richmond and Clarence areas, to educate the staff about their heritage.
Tweed Heads Seagulls and Mullumbimby, for instance, have been playing league for more than a century, and Gold Coast rep sides played France (1964) and New Zealand (1982), while in 1999, the Burleigh Bears played Great Britain and only lost 10-6.
Australia’s first indigenous Test rugby league player, Lionel Morgan, came from the Tweed. He played for Tweed Seagulls and then Tweed All Blacks before signing with Wynnum-Manly in Brisbane in 1959. In 1960 he played for Australia in a drawn Test series against France, and went to England with World Cup squad. He was part of that Gold Coast side that went down to the French at Tweed Heads in 1964.
And before the big league schools like Keebra Park and Palm Beach Currumbin, Miami High was producing state reps like Brad Kennedy (Qld) and Steve Hage (NSW), two school teammates who played against each other in the inter-state arena in 1978.
Legendary Test centre, Steve Rogers (father of Mat) started his senior career with the Southport based Gold Coast Tigers in 1972.
Photo: Steve Hage (left) in action for Canterbury-Bankstown.