Richard Mathers ■ View from the Back
The return to training - it’s an old adage but nonetheless true - is just like going to a new school, no matter if the surroundings haven’t changed.
Imagine your workplace. You go on holiday, come back and some of your colleagues have gone, new ones are either there, on their way or rumoured, and the boss has changed. All familiar ways of working no longer apply. It’s like someone has been in while you were absent and changed all the settings on your computer.
You understand the basics of how it all works, but there is the thrill and trepidation of coming to terms with the upgrade.
It is taken as a given, in professional sport especially, that at the end of every season there is the revolving door of players and staff, some expected or known about for a while, some not and surprising.
Ask any sportsperson what means the most to them outside of winning trophies, what they look forward to the most and miss the most when it’s gone, and they will tell you it is the dressing room banter.
Training by its very nature isn’t fun, but what is - and gets hugely overlooked is the forming of close relationships through the toil and struggle. When there is blood, sweat and tears, you overcome it with your mates. You share the pain, that’s what truly builds the defining bonds. And yet, come the start of the new season, some of those have been dismantled, which makes it really hard for players to have normal, regular friends.
Some, especially those you came through into the professional game with, you stick with through club changes. But time and the competitive environment does not allow you to keep in touch with most.
Fans probably think that we are in and out of each other’s pockets, but it can be quite an isolating profession, especially as you might be regularly moving home or spending a long part of the day travelling.
So what every dressing room needs are true characters to set the tone, all of them different. At Castleford, we are losing one of the biggest - Nick Fozzard who is ‘going home’ to Dewsbury after gracing so many gyms in the top flight. Every club needs a big ‘Fozz’, the absolute life and soul of the dressing room and a very, very funny man in spite of his penchant for naked dips, which doesn’t half intimidate the new guys and the youngsters starting out.
When I was at Warrington, Ben Westwood was another whose dry wit and disdain for training make him very funny to be around. He has all the ability and
Through adversity: Kirk Dixon kicks a golden point drop-goal at Wakefield last season rlphotos.com
The old pals act The seasons come and the seasons go, just as team-mates come and go also. RICHARD MATHERS reflects on out with the old, in with the new...
“When there is blood, sweat and tears, you overcome it with your mates. You share the pain...”
qualities you want in a team-mate and never fails to tell you his back is sore.... from carrying the rest of the side!
Since joining the Tigers I’ve become close to Nick Younquest, the most laid back of individuals, who doesn't seem to have a care in the world. Me, him and Kirk Dixon are partners in crime down the Lane.
We love winding up ‘Dicko’, who has the shortest fuse in the world, so we get plenty of ammunition. It’s the kind of camaraderie that makes you look forward to going in and putting yourself through the mill.
As you read this, we will be back in pre-season training and that’s where all the hard work and preparation starts for every club ahead of the up-and-coming campaign.
It’s an arduous time right up until the end of January which will involve many hill sprints, lots of weight training and general lung-busting work. But there is a common saying that the key to a good season is a great pre-season.
That’s the thought I keep in the back of my mind when I’m gasping for air and pushing myself to the edge of endurance; it will be worth it in the end.
Dressing room comic: Warrington’s Ben Westwood, about to be denied by Billy Slater rlphotos.com
6 Forty-20 November 2011 Five Drives... and a Kick
Potential contributions welcome. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Next issue deadline: 21 November 2011
QUOTH THE RAVENS OFF TO THE TOWER OF LONDON
When else in rugby league this year could you expect to be met by a small army of old retainers, dressed in their ceremonial uniforms and scrupulously checking your credentials?
Well, the main reception at the Galpharm, obviously; but you can have an eerily similar experience at the Tower of London. “Not so much of the ‘old’ if you don’t mind,” says the Yeoman Warder of the Guard - Beefeater to you and me.
The Tower is an interesting choice of venue for the International Player of the Year Awards. Given that there is not a single British winner, there are those who would like the British members of the voting panel - myself included - to enter via the Traitors’ Gate. You must have had a shrewd idea that you were in trouble when the Beefeaters took you that way. Is there a Mitigating Circumstances Gate?
All four squads are in attendance and each gets a highlights tour. I reckon the subliminal message to our antipodean visitors is this: “Okay, we might not beat you very often at rugby league and we might not have won any actual awards, but we haven’t half got a lot of history.”
We arrive with the referees, who, as ever, travel in a pack and know where the cheapest beer is to be located (Wetherspoons, opposite the West Gate). “We were all schooled by Ganson,” explains Phil Bentham.
Once inside, we attach ourselves to the England party, to see what effect this heritage overload might have on our brave boys. A particularly gory account of the beheading of Ann Boleyn certainly holds their attention. One or two of them become distinctly agitated, both by that and a graphic description of drawing and quartering.
And you wouldn’t want to miss the Crown Jewels, would you? It’s the ultimate display of medieval bling and, to me, they all look uncannily like fakes.
International Awards 2011
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Billy Slater (MelbourneStorm) SPIRIT OF RUGBY LEAGUE AWARD: David Oxley CBE. ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Jharal Yow Yeh (BrisbaneBroncos) COACH OF THE YEAR: Des Hasler (ManlySeaEagles) REFEREE OF THE YEAR: Tony Archer (Australia)
TEAM OF THE YEAR: Full-back: Billy Slater (Melbourne); Wing: Akuile Uate (Newcastle); Centre: Jamie Lyon (Manly); Stand-off: Benji Marshall (Wests); Scrum-half: Daly CherryEvans (Manly); Prop: Matt Scott (NQueensland); Hooker: Cameron Smith (Melbourne); Second row: Sam Thaiday (Brisbane); Loose forward: Paul Gallen (Cronulla)
NATIONS’ PLAYERS OF THE YEAR Canada: Matt Wyles; Cook Islands: Tinirau Arona; Czech Republic: Jan Buben; Fiji: Wes Naiqama; France: Rémi Casty; Germany: Thomas Isaak; Ireland: Tim Bergin; Italy: Matteo Rossi; Jamaica: Tyronie Rowe; Japan: Keisuke Kinoshita; Malta: Clifford Debattista; Norway: Sonny Mellor; Lebanon: Walid Yassine; Russia: Eduard Ososkov; Samoa: George Carmont; Scotland: Dale Ferguson; Serbia: Dalibor Vukanovic; South Africa: Deon Kraemer; Sweden: Alexander Rappestad; Tonga: Feleti Mateo; Ukraine: Vladimir Mashkin; USA: Apple Pope; Wales: Lloyd White
Towering figures: The Four Nations skippers meet the beefeaters at the Tower of London SWPix.com
Some of our lads show a rather suspicious interest on the thickness of the glass in the display cabinets. “Enough to withstand machine-gun fire,” says our Beefeater. “Probably worth more than what’s in ‘em.”
Then we drink some champagne (not the players, of course), have a good feed and watch a series of Australians (and one Kiwi) carry off all the awards. Let them try to put on a bash in a 700-year-old building, though, and we’d really see who’s the daddy.
There’s an old legend that when the ravens leave the Tower of London, England will beat the ANZACs in a tournament. The night is coming to an end; the raven haven’t left, but the Kiwis have, along with the Aussies and the Welsh, who have their own chapter in the bloody history of the Tower. More than a few Welsh rebels finished up in there - and they didn’t get away with community service orders.
Selected players are on duty the following morning, for a photo-shoot at another London landmark, Hyde Park. As they are coming away, the Horse Guards ride past. “Look,” shouts the back-marker from up in the saddle. “It’s Jamie Jones-Buchanan. He’s my hero.”
“It’s a small world,” says JJB. “He probably comes from Bramley.”
At the press conference in the nearby Hard Rock Café, Stephen Kearney, is sat at the top table, directly under a vintage poster advertising a Lou Reed gig. The two could be twins, separated at birth.
“Is that a compliment?” asks Kearney. Well, after the life he’s had, I should imagine Lou Reed is thrilled.
November 2011 Forty-20 7