This is an article I wrote for The Courier-Mail in October, 1995, but to my knowledge was never published, not for sinister reasons. I think it was simply a lack of space. In posting it here, it goes up, as I wrote it 25 years ago:
As Wests and Cronulla players lined-up in the tunnel for a 1970s clash vital to Wests semi-final chances, their Test second rower, Les Boyd started to bad mouth a Cronulla rival.
Boyd continued his tirade on the field, where the two captains tossed a coin to decide which way the teams would run.
The toss compeled, the teams changed ends, giving Boyd another chance to get close to the player he had verballed in the tunnel. This time he flattened him, out of sight of the referee, who signalled for the kick-off, with the Cronulla player down on the ground receving treatment.
It was a particularly brutal example of a player willing to back up his words with action, and at the end of that season the league stopped the practice of the captains tossing the coin, on the field.
Sledging comes under the spotlight every so often in sport, when a player makes his mark for the frequency of his outbursts, as much as he does for the skill of his play.
In cricket, the Australian and West Indian players have fired regular broadsides at each other, and racial taunts have been a big issue in Australian rules football this season.
Most recently, Australian Rugby League winger, John Hopoate has lost many admirers because of his penchant for abusing opponents who have just made a mess of things, one way or another.
In the grand final, he gave Bulldogs’ skipper, Terry Lamb a send-off, as he made his way to sin bin. And in the World Cup opener at Wembley, Hopoate was at it again, giving it to England’s teenage fullback, Kris Radlinski, after he fumbled a bomb, which led to a try to Mark Coyne.
England had the last laugh, when Hopoate knocked on, running the ball out from near his own line, and Jason Robinson swooped for the match clinching try.
Where do you hide in such a situation?
The mistake is bad enough, but coming on top of the arrogant, dismissive outburst – well that is something else.
Former Australian Test halfback, Tom Raudonikis believes sledging is part and parcel of the game. He played in an era when players said the most unrepeatable things to each other, and yet still adjourned to the bar for a drink afterwards.
Now coach of Wests in Sydney, Raudonikis says he does not encourage sledging, but he tells some his more vocal players they must back up their words with action.
“You can’t get away with things like you used to in the ’70s, but you can still hit hard with the shoulder,” Raudonikis said. “You’ve got to show its not idle talk. If someone sledged me, I just told them I would be here all day and if they wanted to, they could come and do something about it.”
There was a case this year when one of Raudonikis’s players was mouthing off at a Norths’ player in the tunnel and then went out and played timidly.
At halftime, Raudonikis reminded him of what he had said, and told him to do something about it. He didn’t, so Raudinikis hauled him off, 10 minutes after the resumption.
Broncos’ centre, Steve Renouf says he cannot recall one significant incident of sledging in his career, and if he is on the recieing end one day, he doesn’t expect it to be a big deal.
“It’s nothing. They’re only words, afterall,” Renouf said. “Someone like ‘Alfie’ (Allan Langer) might say something on the field, but it’s usually a joke.”
Before Langer, there was Mark Murray feeding the scrums for Queensland and he finds it hard to remember too many heated verbal exchanges. There were the Ross Strudwick coached Valleys’ teams, that went in for a lot of verbal intimidation, and there were occasional one-on-one incidents.
“Modern day coaches tend to avoid sledging as a tactic,” Murray said. “In the case of John Hopoate, it appears he needs some guidance from somebody.”
Former Queensland centre, Chris Close said his Valleys’ club teammame in 1979, Tom Duggan was a renowned sledger.
“He used to tackle blokes and say things like ‘How’s that pussycat’ and they’d get up swinging, or chase him,” Close said. “He got Brothers’ winger, Noel Russell upset one day and Noel said to one of his teammates, ‘I’m going to get the ball and run straight at Tommy Duggan”. Tommy said: “I’m over here, you rabbit. You wont have any trouble finding me.”
“Vic Wieland (Valleys centre) was going to sledge Mal Meninga one day. Vic was a big bloke, who got a bit of a stutter up when he got excited. He’s hit Mal in a hefty tackle, and as he was getting up, he was going to say: ‘How’s that, you….” but by the time he got it out, Mal was too far away to hear him”.
South Sydney’s Irish born centre, John Berne had a novel way of dealing with a sledger. He walked up to him and kissed him.
Gold Coast Seagulls’ coach, John Harvey was involved in the infamous Manly v Wests matches of the 1970s – the silvertails v fibros class struggles.
“There was more action than words in those games,” Harvey said. “Sledging is unsportsmanlike, but only idiots listen to what is being said.”
1 Tom Duggan (centre) playing for Valleys against Redcliffe at Neumann Oval (now Border Field).
2 Mal Meninga (in the number 3 jersey).