There are a few athletes in sport who when they speak, people listen and I have heard two different examples of this over the past few days. First up was Cameron Smith who is widely regarded as the most respected/smartest/when-I-speak-they-listen players in the NRL, not just because of his ability on the field as a player and captain but also due to the fact that Smith is always willing to speak up on issues such as player welfare.
Smith has stood by the NRL on their quest to see the shoulder charge and anything similar to it banned, but Smith has verbally backed the NRL a few times on this issue with his most recent backing coming as confusion swept over the NRL. Despite players, coaches, fans and probably even officials not really understanding the NRL judiciary and their crack down on the shoulder charge, Smith maintained his perspective that the NRL should do everything in its power to outlaw the shoulder charge.
There was also Wayne Bennett who got the headlines a few weeks ago when he spoke up in similar fashion to Smith. Bennett's opinion, like Smith's is a valued thing in the rugby league world any time you get them speaking on an issue, it isn't taken lightly.
With regards to this shoulder charge issue, I agree and side with Smith here despite the uproar that has come from the weekend's games. There have been some extremely inconsistent decisions made my the judiciary, but there always have so I don't see it as a new problem, just more of a pity that the NRL hasn't been able to sort this issue out over the past decade if not longer. It's clear that the decision not to allow the shoulder charge is right because the margin of error between getting it right and pulling off a game-changing hit, and getting it wrong, possibly resulting in a horrible injury or worse, is so small.
The issue right now is that we are near the end of the season and new rules have been brought in, which take time for players, referees and those judiciary plonkers time to adjust to. I see this as a teething period, whether it's the players who need to adjust and simply raise their tackling arm just slightly away from their hip or whether it's the officials who need to adjust slightly, I'm not sure.
I then heard Roger Federer speak up on the Nick Kyrgios saga. Much like Smith, Federer cuts through the clutter thanks to the respect he has as an athlete and person so his voice on matters holds greater weight that those of an ATP Tour battler. I don't believe that Federer offered any new insight into one of the biggest stories in world sport in the last week, but he stood firm in the opinion that the ATP need to impose some sort of sanction on Kyrgios.
Last week the NRL signed a new broadcast deal with Channel Nine in Australia (it's important to remember that this deal is only with Channel Nine - there's more to come), but this has been overshadowed on a few fronts by a new broadcasting deal for the AFL. The deal is with News Corp who own Fox Sports in Australia and is worth $2.508 billion over six years from 2017, which when directly compared to the the NRL's deal with Nine makes for interesting reading.
The AFL's deal averages out to be $418 million per season, which includes Fox Sports who will get most of the games each round on pay-TV, Telstra who will get digital rights and Seven who will get three games on free-TV. The NRL's deal with Nine worth $185 million a season but they have to still sign deals with other provides as well so it will definitely get closer to the AFL's figure.
Those other providers include News Corp and Fox, who will probably end up getting half the NRL's games each week. But the catch is that Rupert Murdoch, who is the boss dawg of News Corp appears to be holding on to some bitterness as the NRL fast-tracked their deal with Nine without really seeing what the other parties could offer.
You could a connection between that and the fact that Murdoch as at the AFL's press conference announcing the new deal, something he rarely does. Or you could point to Murdoch's comments which saw him say "we have always preferred Aussie rules". He doesn't sound like everything is all good on his side, but things will definitely get funky because at some stage the NRL will have to negotiate with Murdoch and News Corp. I doubt Murdoch will be at that press conference when the deal's done.
Sidenote - I'm going to stay tuned to this battle between the AFL and NRL, not with regards to their broadcast deals but their battle for sporting supremacy in Australia. Low key shots have been fired.
The Tall Blacks went down to the Boomers last night, thus giving up their opportunity to directly qualify for the Rio Olympics. It's all good however as the Tall Blacks get a second chance at qualification next July as they will take part in a 12-team tournament which will see the top four teams qualify for Rio.
I have said my piece about Steven Adams as I think it's all good that he hasn't been playing for the Tall Blacks, I'll save you the explanation but in Andrew Bogut we got a wee example of what could have been. Bogut arrived only 20 hours before the game, well after his team had hit the shores of Aotearoa because he was receiving treatment on a back injury that many noted on the Boomers European tour and then we saw Bogut taking time to rest it in game one.
The desperation of Bogut - who a few months ago helped the Golden State Warriors win the NBA championship - to play for the Boomers was nothing less than fantastic and has put a funky spin on Adams' decision not to play. Here is an NBA champ doing whatever he can to represent his country, risking his body and possibly his NBA career while our best player is in the country, but not representing his country.
It is a weird situation and us kiwis don't like to see this type of thing - Lydia Ko got hated on when she left her base in Aotearoa for the big time and if she doesn't turn out to play in the New Zealand Open she will get blasted.
Personally, I'm still all good with Adams not playing. To take the Bogut comparison further, Bogut's a veteran player and the Warriors could find players who do what he does pretty easily, especially as he wasn't a big player in the Finals. Adams is a young player who the Oklahoma City Thunder are trying to groom, they are working with Adams to help him become a better player for the Thunder. Adams could also be a intriguing figure in helping the Thunder keep Kevin Durant, who would undoubtedly want solid big men such as Adams, Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter to help him and Westbrook out.
Things will get very interesting next July. Maybe Adams/the Thunder and Paul Henare reached some sort agreement where Adams wouldn't play in this Oceania Championship, but would play in the qualifying tournament next year. What's wrong with that? The Tall Blacks were always going to be the underdog to the Boomers this year and Adams will be a better player next year when it is actually do or die.
Steve is Val's brother and I feel uncomfortable talking negatively about either of them. I doubt either of them have a bad bone in their bodies ... Val's got a few busted bones and muscles though.
Ugh, I hate Manchester United.