For many years now my friend Gus and I have had a deep and abiding love for Rugby League. It seems anathema to many, and to some degree, out of character, yet as the sport which most captured my fancy as a teenager, I have remained attached to it. There is something of a current of rugby league in the family. When my grandmother emigrated to Sydney from New Caledonia in 1922, she began supporting the Eastern Suburbs Roosters because their symbol was the rooster and their colours, red white and blue, also those of France. Consequently, my mother has held a membership of the Eastern Suburbs Leagues club in Bondi Junction for her entire adult life.
My father, far more of a rugby union fan, played rugby league as a schoolboy and, no doubt with some element of nostalgia, used to take my brother and I to see games every so often when we were young. The only thing I remember is hearing some chap shout “rip his bloody heady off, Kevin,” and otherwise pulling up grassblades. There is a famous family moment when the Roosters were playing in the 1980 grand final, a game which they lost. My mother sat watching the game, gripped, holding Jason, the dachshund’s ears, one in each hand. At moments of real tension and suspense, she would pull on Jason’s ears, absentmindedly, not causing Jason any harm, but all the same, grabbing his attention. It became known as the time my mother almost pulled Jason’s ears off and, since then, the idea of “almost pulling Jason’s ears off” has been something of a byword for exciting entertainment.
And then, in 1987, it happened. I fell in love with rugby league. I could not begin to tell you quite why, but it all began when I watched the Roosters flog St George 44-2 in one of the opening games of the season. I came to love all aspects of the game, but most especially the boofhead players. There was something quite magnificent about these working class gladiators who would pit themselves against each other. Rugby league could be a very violent game, full of punch ups and heavy hits, and it had a raw brutality that was utterly captivating as a teenager. The incredible skill and finesse they displayed amidst such hardness was astonishing, and, to be honest, it still is.
So, loving the characters of rugby league, especially the truly working class blokes who could tackle all day and take a hundred hits without blinking, blokes with nicknames like “cement” and “blocker”, blokes who would play with a broken arm, we began to imagine alternative lives for them, after rugby league. It began with the first e-mail I ever sent. It was a little vignette about some of the personalities of rugby league from the 80s.
“I eat it by the truckload!” said Blocker, with a piping shrug.
Is about the only line I remember… Yet it began an exchange of e-mails over the following years, in which we would say things like. “Hey, I ran into Ian Schubert the other day, you remember, he played for Wests. He’s doing a PhD on logging in the Papua New Guinean highlands.”
It wasn’t long before the first ode to a rugby league player emerged, followed by poems allegedly written by rugby league players, almost invariably about the game. Anyways, without further ado, I present those poems I have so far managed to dig up, which are disappointingly few in number. There are others, however, which I shall dig out. I have also commissioned new works from some of the games greats, and will update this page accordingly.
R.I.P Artie Beetson. Long a by-word for bigger than Ben Hur.
Out the gallows’ arm
Bane of dwarves and giants
winter on the sidelines
– Haiku, Trevor Gillmeister, 1989
MEN OF THE PLAINS
Thunder from the mountains
lightning o’er the plains
men of steel and paddock
hard as rock.
Big men defiant
-biff and stoush and hang ‘em
out to dry.
Don’t argue, says Achilles
stiff-arm sinners in the bin.
– Royce Simmons, 1994
A blue in 87
Campbelltown in winter
Schuey, he was there
– Haiku, Alan Fallah, 1999
What’s dry July?
I think I qualify
for it’s been a while
since I looked
through the bottom
of a glass.
– Phil “Whatsapacketa” Sigsworth, 1985
Excerpts from correspondence:
Jean Desfosses definitely approves – he has started working on his own contributions at his Institut du Rugby League at the Sorbonne. Peter Spring is there on sabbatical.
Hey, what happened to the chooks? I might come back and see about coaching them myself. I’ve been talking to Peter Spring about it a bit over here (he’s still working on waste-disposal in the Bangladeshi river deltas) and he thinks it’s pure pshychology.
“There’s no dynasty better than a rugby league dynasty” – Simon Schama, 1997
“I ran into Peter Tunks the other day and he reckons it’ll come down to whichever team adheres most strictly to the sex ban the night before. “I’ve been studying testosterone levels in league players for years with the Ponds Institute,” he said, “and let me tell you, you blow your load, you blow the game.”
…the little read title “Harriet Wisecastle at the Blues Training
Camp” by Allan Fallah.
Good to hear Peter Spring is keeping busy. I have been doing some work with Jean Desfosses on his genealogy and turned up the following information which should interest Peter and Shoey:
Né à Nicolet et baptisé dans la paroisse Saint-Jean-Baptiste, le 27 novembre 1787, fils de Joseph Desfossés et de Madeleine Boudreau.
I hear that Sam Backo has developed an online “lewdconverter” which translates lascivious material into aussie slang. He developed it as a political protest in conjunction with Kerry Hemsley.