2011. I know all this eye-bulging, jaw-slackeningly mesmerising shit happened because I have a vague, sepia-tinged recollection of the overall season housed in my head. Problem is that this off-season has been dragging like an absolute bastard, and things are becoming blurry. Also, the tedium of the finals series forced my mind to retreat into a place of wind-blown splendour, where separated lovers think about each other and stare out of windows into rainy nights. It was a choice between that or confronting the hideous reality of Sydney's northern beaches, and my mind cannot process plague proportions of affluent WASPS any more than it can accept the carpet that covers the floor of my ensuite. Carpet around a toilet is, like people who live in Manly, a concept too terrible to bear. Anyway. Because my general posture is backward-looking and nostalgic I'll try to sift through the bored shards of my off-season psyche and dredge up some of the high and lowlights of last season.
Let's start with the people I love or approve of.
-Josh Dugan's Origin debut. Seeing him cross his arms and tap his sky-blue clad shoulders as he ran out of the tunnel looking hotter than the centre of the sun was a sight to squeeze the hardest of hearts. I shed tears.
Just on this - it's been a terribly long time since I've seen any new Josh Dugan pictures and experienced the heart arrythmia that accompanies this. What, do 'they' think we have better things to do over summer or something? Because 'they' are wrong. Damn wrong. I can only assume he's doing okay there in Canberra. I mean, as okay as anybody can be in Canberra (don't start me). Josh Dugan underwent a brief excursion into irrelevance last season. I didn't like it. I can't imagine he enjoyed it much either. Bitch just kept on getting himself hurt, and the Raiders kept on losing and the whole season had a horribly monotonous, yet anxious rhythm and was as unsatisfying and unsubstantial as a bowl of rice bubbles: ie. shithouse. The essence of football is knowing what's going on, and knowing who's liable to do what in any given situation. Josh Dugan took this far too far last season. How many times do we gotta see him doubled over and clutching at a colt-like leg or limping from the field, grimacing so hard that his face looks like an old man's knee? How many times, Lord? His constant injuries resonated with me in a painful fashion. Usually I'm a fan of a little painful resolution, but not in these many instances. It fucking blew. On a vaguely related and similarly painful note, the Raiders receieved ten percent of the vote in Rugby League Week's readers' poll for the 'club that won't win another premiership in the next ten years' category. Sad.
-Todd Carney drinking himself out of another club. You gotta love him. Whatever he does he gives it his goddamn ALL. And we will know him by his trail of empties.
- Paul Gallan's audacious performance in Origin II. Gal played out of position at front row and for the whole eighty minutes. What a warrior. He should be stuffed and mounted in a glass case and hung on the wall over my fireplace.
-Terry Campese's seven minute season. Yes, Campese played for approximately seven minutes, for the entire season. On the upside, this gave him time to knock his wife up again about five minutes after she had their first baby, which is nice.
-Jarryd Hayne. He saved someone from drowning in the sea and then spent the rest of the season headbutting people with simple-minded merriment and considerable panache. Players, punters, whoever. He's brilliant. Such is his charm that everybody loves him all the more for his bursts of violence. Plus he rocks rosary beads like nobody else, with the possible exeption of Madonna circa 1986.
-The words 'he's just a grub.' Post game press conferences can be painful to watch. The air is often thick with unreality. Players and coaches (discounting Tim Sheens) habitually squander the opportunity to judge, slander and insult opposing teams, coaches, referees, fellow teammates and the people who set the prices for the stadium snack bars. This is a damn shame. A grim-faced Nathan Hindmarsh did his bit to rectify this when he capped off a spiteful Eels Bulldogs game by refusing to elaborate on Michael Ennis beyond these four words, forced from between gritted teeth: "he's just a grub." Excellent. More, please.
-Michael Ennis being voted the game's 'Biggest Grub' by fifty one percent of the RWL poll. Legend. He compounded this by extending his scope and burning the shit out of Brendan Cowell on the League Lounge with a derogatory comment about his cardigan. Bless.
-JT watching QLD celebrate their sixth straight Origin series from a wheelchair with his head lolling around like a bladder on a stick. This was actually a terrible sight, but JT is so cool that he can carry off wheelchair-bound weeping while loaded on pain-killing drugs and still look like Harry Callahan.
-Benji Marshall belting someone who yelled out "hey Benji, Lockyer's better than you!" outside McDonalds on George Street and being found not guilty. Good to see that his nifty sidestep also applies to matters of the law.
-Ricky Stuart losing his fucking mind in the coaching box when the Blues won Origin II and unleashing a frenzied flurry of punches into assistant coach Gavin Wood's ribcage.
-Jamal Idris rag-dolling the nippy but not nippy enough Nathan Gardner by lifting him up by his ripped-down shorts, like a piece of carry-on luggage, and tossing him around, bare-assed, for a good thirty seconds. Mark Geyer compounded the hilarity later by pointing out that "you could see his junk" You could, and we did.
-The Battle of Brookvale. Awesome. This was an explosion of violence so glorious that it should have been italicised with a burst of surging trumpets. Anybody who watched any of the three thousand replays of this charmingly retro incident without miming uppercuts in their living room has no business watching league and should switch codes immediately.
-The Rabbitohs Broncos game played in Perth on the world's worst-draining surface, ie. a lake. It was wild, as all things in the West should rightly be. Senior-cit Bunies coach John Lang launching into a celebratory, 'arthritis-be-damned' belly slide through a puddle afterwards was a lovely and altogether unexpected final flourish.
-Billy Slater holding up play, and David Williams' badly injured neck, after a tackle went bad. Billy Slater is no paragon of virtue - fact is I can't stand the prick - but this just struck me as very sweet and sporting. However, I also remember roaring my approval when Paul Gallan stomped, with undisguised savagery, on an opposing player's neck as he lay twitching on the grass post-tackle, so it's all relative.
-Reni Matuai and his at once attractive and repellant reptile eyes making their NRL return after a two year ban for drug use. He's hot, and he has a bankrupt-soul spookiness about him. Like I said: hot.
-Darren Lockyer kicking the field goal to get the Broncos to the qualifying round with a grotesquely fractured cheekbone. Bonus points for the fact that this put the Dragons out of contention for the season.
-Micheal Jennings handing out two thousand free tickets to fans from his own pocket as punishment for showing up to a training session blind drunk. That'll learn him.
So that's the champions. Now, to turn my attention to the fuckwits and fools.
-Brett Stewart breaking into a ' giddy-up gallop' to celebrate the club try-scoring record at Manly in a stupid swipe at David Gallop for suspending him for four weeks in 2009.
-Brett Stewart telling David Gallop he owed him an apology when collecting his premiership ring. In the absence of hard proof and the ability to read lips, I can only assume that Gallop's response was somewhere along the lines of "boo-fucken-hoo."
-Brett Stewart becoming increasingly erratic, delusional and paranoid.
-Brett Stewart in general. Just a massively unpleasant person.
-Ryan Tandy. He poured ill-repute on the game like gravel off a fucking dump truck all year long.
-Mark Gasnier announcing his retirement and cutting short his comeback contract by two seasons, allowing him more time to squirt the sauce. Presumably.
-Isaac Luke's incessant canonballing. Small man syndrome. How else to explain his obsession with getting all up in David Shillington's grill (not literally - he only reaches Shilly's waist) on an annual basis in Four Nations games?
-William Hopoate quitting NRL to become a Mormon missionary. Just what God needs: another Hopoate on his hands. This is an exercise in industrial-scale pointlessness that only Ned Flanders could possibly approve of.
-Robert Lui. Ugh.
-Mal Meninga penning that inane column after the Origin series win calling elements of NSW rugby league 'filthy rats', among other things. About as novel as an SBS program with the words 'Nazi Germany' in the title.
-Matt Orford. What a disaster. This nuggety little fuck caused me and every other Raider fan (assumed) a considerable amount of pain early in the season, and as such I don't blame whoever it was that keyed his car at Bruce stadium in what was obviously a well-founded fit of maniacal resentment. His ineptitude was very hard to take, okay? That Titans Raiders game back in April? Where he inexpicably lost the ball in a scrum feed and pushed the game into golden point and then let some only slightly less inept Titan (Greg Bird, I think) cross to snatch the game? Dreadful. A defeat dished up in the incapable hands of the Titans was an especially low-point in a season littered with low points, the key one being that the Raiders suffered their longest ever losing streak. Historic horror.
-The disconcerting trend of players getting their surname inked on their body. No comment necessary.
-John Sutton. When he's not being incompetent on the field, he likes to spend his spare time being a Bra Boy. Deep though my respect is for all things Bra Boy, this guy just cannot fucking play. He's awful, it's fantastic. Watching Souths play disastrous football is one of life's great pleasures. It fires my core.
-Daly Cherry-Evans coming home from the Kangaroo tour with a massive hickey on his neck and being met at the airport by his girlfriend. The Tele provided breathless coverage of the issue as it unfolded, which remarkably did nothing to spoil his aura of apple-pie wholesomeness. (He said one of his 'teammates' gave it to him. Along with the crabs, ringworm and rickets.)
-The increasingly fickle and disposable nature of the whole NRL business. There was a dull sense of agitation and fatigue in the air this season. Players and coaches were shuffled, traded and shunted relentlessly. It was distracting. It's also an irritating and unwelcome reminder that the game is no game at all. We know this is the case, of course, but rude and ill-timed reminders (see: Manly one week after winning premiership, the poor bastards) detract from the joy of the game. We have so little opportunity for unadulterated escapism as it is, is there no place where we can retreat from this shit?
So that there is 2011 as I remember it. This has restored in me a sense that I am in charge of things - meaning my faculties, mostly, but also that all my grudges, obsessions and irritations are in order. This is comforting. It doesn't go so far as to suggests that my eye for the 2012 season will be infused with Sphinx-like focus and cathedral-like calm, but I imagine that kind of simple serenity would fucking suck.