Much is made of modern football and the structured nature of the game. Many see it as boring and restrictive; a game played by robots blessed with outstanding athleticism, yet few of the subtle football smarts that players of generations past possessed.
The reality is that a natural by-product of the professionalism of the modern game is a more conservative and structured approach. Both on and off-field, that conservatism threatens to diminish the role of the ‘character’ in the game.
The contest itself is still great to watch, yet bland interviews, standardised responses to questions, and inane repetition when it comes to strategy and tactics for upcoming matches remove the personality and spontaneity from the game.
Every now and again it is nice to hear a terse and bitter Wayne Bennett or a mysterious comment made by a captain, such as the recent offerings from Paul Gallen around the NRL’s stance on drugs in the game.
These things remind us of how human, imperfect and, sometimes, just how funny the game can be.
I have thrown together a team that I feel could be the most entertaining team you could ever watch. Some players for quirkiness, some for humour, and some for idiosyncrasies that will never be forgotten.
I’ll start with the front row, as the big men have a wonderful history of entertaining us. Remember, not all these men would be described as the elite, but boy they were awesome fun to watch.
Our first, however, was indeed in the elite players in his position.
8. Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach
Can you remember the legendary Balmain, New South Wales and Australia front-rower fiddling with the drawstring on his shorts, readjusting his gear, while standing alongside a referee about to get a dressing down?
The Tigers legend reefed those shorts up a thousand times, ran the ball harder than most and delivered deft passes to support players. Every now and again he would smirk, play the pantomime villain and tap a ref on the head, all the while providing quality entertainment.
9. Michael Ennis
I will never forget the night that Ennis ‘chirped’ Nathan Hindmarsh at ANZ Stadium as he ran off to make the next tackle, only to stop, turn back, and attempt to bash the snot out of Ennis. You have to be pretty good to get a reaction like that out of a relative ‘cleanskin’.
Whether it be the viking clap, niggly slaps or verbal jousting, love him or hate him, Ennis was the master.
10. Mario Fenech
Despite being a fierce competitor, Mario had an ability to become involved in comical evets on the field like no other forward of his era. The origins of the ‘falcon’ lie with him and the innocuous ‘sconing’ he copped as he tried to leave the field behind the play-the-ball is one of the game’s funniest moments.
It is sad that Mario now suffers symptoms of brain trauma, and much of the mirth he brought to the game may have been connected with the concussions he suffered during matches.
11. Martin Lang
Rugby league’s version of the Energizer bunny or a kamikaze pilot, Lang was fearsome at full flight. Head strapped with electrical tape, there was no need for a step, pass or dummy – it was cannonball straight for Lang.
After the immense contact which generally ensued, he would stand, pick up pieces of his uniform, a few teeth and any limbs that had become detached, and get back ready for the next one. Always reminded me of a German protester, chipping away at the Berlin Wall.
12. Geoff Robinson
With Martin Lang alongside, this could be the most violent pair of running back rowers in the history of the game. Less effective than Lang, yet more stylish and primal with his wild mane of locks flowing behind, Robinson was a hero of the Belmore faithful through the 1980s.
Unfortunately, ‘Robbo’ wasn’t known for his stamina, yet he made up for this with mayhem and unpredictability.
13. Mark Geyer
Being a little crazy has always been an asset for rugby league players and Geyer had it in spades. To have the temerity to take on the ‘King’ Wally Lewis in the pouring rain and become enemy number one for the Queenslanders, conveyed the unscripted and illogical approach he sometimes took to the game.
A modern understanding of the ‘swinging arm’ needs to be explained with clear reference to some of the Penrith giant’s best work. He always reminded me a little of ‘The Chief’ in One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest.
7. Tommy Raudonikis
To ask a roommate to make a cup of tea and then flatten them when they refuse probably isn’t commonplace on the Kangaroos tour, yet Tommy managed to do it. In the battle of the late ’70s over the New South Wales halfback spot, Raudonikis felt the need to assert his seniority over young whippersnapper Steve Mortimer.
Worth the price of admission itself, Tommy would turn on the ‘biff’ and alter the momentum of a game without thought.
6. Olsen Filipaina
This one is a little from the vault and the man in question would have to be wearing his national colours to make this team, yet Filipaina was one of the most powerful and damaging runners the game has seen. Didn’t happen that often for the Tigers, Roosters or Bears on a Sunday afternoon, but when he pulled on the black of New Zealand he was fearsome. Tony Williams should watch a few of his clips and see what he ‘could’ do.
5. Semi Radradra
There is a bit of the ‘Human Headline’, Derryn Hinch, about Semi Radradra. Everything he does, he does to its full extent.
One of the most powerful yet graceful modern athletes, Radradra has led the media on an international jaunt that beggared belief, faced distasteful allegations and sought new challenges elsewhere. Whatever we think, when Semi is in full flight, there is no better sight and the turnstiles click over.
4. Terry Hill
There was always something unstable about Hill; signing contracts with two different teams at the start of his career should have been a dead giveaway. A gifted junior, chased by numerous clubs, Hill never hit the heights expected. Watching him feign unconsciousness at Leichardt in the early ’90s was gold, and his distinct speech patterns added to his fame as the media embraced him through parody and imitation later in his career.
3. Steve Renouf
Watching the professional Renouf attempt to play with this collection of lunatics would be entertaining in itself. The prince of centres, the balance and poise of his long runs from deep in his own half as the Broncos stormed to consecutive premierships in 1992-93 will live long in the minds of fans.
2. Michael Hancock
The sight of the Brisbane and Queensland winger, face down, held around the legs by an opponent is a vivid memory. The quality of the tackle was irrelevant, what became far more interesting was the violent leg kicking and bucking that Hancock would employ in order to attempt to rise to his feet and play the ball.
He began the process before the tackle had been completed and the crescendo was a single legged, martial-arts-style kick that should have taken out far more teeth than it did. There was so much action happening below the waistline that satirists HG and Roy took to calling him ‘Three Knees’ Hancock.
1. ‘Lord’ Ted Goodwin
One of the most enigmatic players of the ’70s, Goodwin played with an instinctive and spontaneous style that saw him become a favourite among all fans, not just those of the teams for which he played.
The ability to knock oneself unconscious and back up the following week to play a critical role in the grand final replay says a lot about the unpredictable nature of his game.
Not the best team of all time, but certainly one of the most entertaining.