Jul 05

Cameron Smith on outer over tackle drama

Cameron Smith. Photo: Getty-ImagesClick here for full State of Origin coverageThe lowdown: State of Origin III

Queensland skipper Cameron Smith will go into Wednesday night’s Origin decider under more pressure than any other time during his brilliant career.

Smith has dealt with scrutiny of the highest order – he was part of the salary cap drama that ripped the heart out of the Melbourne team and cost the team and individuals reputation, premierships and dollars.

But then he had the team around him and the support of his club. There were others in the same boat – but tonight he will be rowing alone.

And he will do it tough to explain his behaviour. Tonight 60 Minutes is dedicating its entire program to the Alex McKinnon story – and the courage of Alex and the amazing support he is getting from his fiancee Teigan Power is a strong message of the show. But the attitude and behaviour of Smith on the field and after the tackle are highlighted by both Alex and his father. Their views are strong to say the least.

His conduct on the field have left the family upset – it is not going too far to say that the family and Alex have dealt with their feelings when it comes to Jordan McLean, the player who made the tackle.

Their feelings are totally different when it comes to Smith. At the time of the tackle this column raised Smith’s continued remonstration with the referee without appearing to show appropriate concern for McKinnon as he lay on the field in a very bad way.

His continued protests and his view on the tackle and Alex’s role in it are what upset the family.

Worse still in their eyes, Smith has not attempted to make contact with Alex to apologise for his conduct. McLean has taken that step.

Smith is adored by his teammates and is considered by some as one of the finest to have played the game.

He is an intelligent man and gets his position in the game. This week he attended James Ackerman’s funeral and on the day that Phil Walsh died he spoke with feeling to the media and represented the rugby league community with class with his words.

It seems in the McKinnon case he has misread the situation, something he normally doesn’t do. When he sees the story on Sunday – if he can watch it – he may have a rethink. It is interesting that Queensland opted for Smith to front the media on Friday when traditionally the captain speaks the day before Origin. Let’s hope he isn’t shielded from the opportunity to give his version of events.

Sadly for Smith, a forthcoming book by McKinnon will reflect a similar attitude. Perhaps Darius Boyd, a mate of McKinnon and a Queensland teammate of Smith should be the one to try to bring them together.

The Blues will gather to watch the program. He has plenty of great mates in the that team, headed up by Beau Scott, Trent Merrin and the Morris twins. They are sure to be affected.

Bieber fever comes home to roost

The Roosters were in camp at Homebush – but they knew the hundreds of girls waiting outside were not for them. “We got inside and we were told that Justin Bieber was staying at our hotel,” said Shaun Kenny-Dowall. “The first one to see him was Daniel Tupou – he got stuck in a lift with him. We were all pretty keen to meet him and then we saw these two massive bouncers walking through the hotel and he was crawling along the ground trying to stay out of sight of the fans.

“We approached him and he had no problem giving us a few minutes for a photo, but he said we had to move around the corner. He asked all about what we did and was a good fella. The boys were all stoked to meet him, but Dylan Napa was the most excited. He was fangirling hard.”

Fight for Ennis

Michael Ennis was just about to do an interview with Nine News when Shane Flanagan stuck his head out of his office, told him he’d been charged and rattled off the points he was facing.

Right then and there the smile Ennis was sporting disappeared. He was rattled.

At that point he was under the assumption that he’d need to beat the charge to make the Blues side. Having watched on as injury robbed him of a grand final appearance the year before he wasn’t up for another disappointment. “Nothing happens easily,” he reflected.

Ennis was so keen for a second chance with the Blues. He was dropped during the Blues’ run of outs and Robbie Farah’s rise and rise looked to have shut down his chances for good.

He admitted that he’d got it wrong the last time he played Origin.

“I was in good form and in a good time of my career, but when it came to Origin I didn’t understand it,” he said. “When I think about why I was dropped – I think it may have been because I competed too hard, there was a line and I may have crossed it. It sounds weird, but that’s why I think it was. As you get older you learn to sit under the line or on it and not go over it.”

And this was all about redemption and family.

“I thought about the family aspect of it all and for my kids,” he said. “It hit me in game two when it might have been a chance – my boys would understand it and remember it.”

Across town on Monday afternoon Farah was frantically visiting specialists to try to work out how bad his busted hand was and if he could play with it.

The original thought was that he was going to get an operation on his hand on Monday night – he was booked in, but that plan was changed and instead he went to get a hand guard made and fitted.

“I would have gone straight in for the operation if Mick didn’t get charged,” said Farah.

It was about 5pm when the fate of both players began to change.

I called the NRL to confirm that Ennis would be unavailable if his suspension stood – the agreement between the states had been that a player had to be eligible for club selection the weekend before Origin to play. But the NRL had a meeting with its lawyers that day to determine exactly where Ennis stood. The NRL said that Ennis was eligible as long as he was not selected in the team that was named on Tuesday morning.

I argued with them and said they were wrong and brought up the Greg Bird situation last year. They checked with the lawyers and said that Ennis was free to play.

At that point I called Blues coach Laurie Daley who was stunned and used the same argument on me – that Bird couldn’t play last year. He then read me emails that he had had explaining his non-selection.

Daley said he would call another media person with whom he has a tight relationship and I told him I’d go back to the NRL. He said my info was spot on and the NRL reconfirmed its stance. Daley proceeded to follow the plan and now the Blues have Ennis in their midst.

Heat’s on Eagles

Geoff Toovey knows his days are numbered in Eagles land, but expect the heat to move to the Sea Eagles’ current playing roster – even established and recently contracted stars like Matt Ballin are not safe. The signing of Apisai Korisau, Nate Myles, Darcy Lussick and Lewis Brown has put the all current forwards on notice including Ballin. The club favourite was the last player signed by Toovey. Since then Bob Fulton and Joe Kelly have been in the driver’s seat for team rebuilding. It’s significant that Korisau and Brown can both play at hooker and are smart out of dummy-half. Ballin has a deal, but is under enormous pressure. The pressure on him will not please Manly fans, who have enormous regard for him, but it’s part of the tough decisions being taken right now. Recruitment manager Dave Warwick and coaching and development manager Simon Healey were made redundant. Warwick has accepted his redundancy. The club is moving in an entirely different direction in recruitment/junior development and adopting a much wider national and international plan, with representatives working on the ground in Queensland, NSW, New Zealand and, from next season, Fiji. It appears that Toovey’s supporters are wasting their time. The decision has been made on Trent Barrett.

Unease of DCE

It’s been a rough year in all areas apart from the bank balance for Daly Cherry-Evans. As we have noted in recent weeks, DCE is not a favourite of Johnathan Thurston and his subsequent axing is not a great shock. DCE is clearly spooked by the media – he did a back-door exit from a Manly golf day when he thought the media were trying to jump him because he was about to be dropped from the Queensland side. The actual person of interest on that day was Kieran Foran. He then rang the club to complain that there were television cameras at his house – a quick ring around the networks revealed that no television station was at his house or was interested in an interview on that day regarding his dumping.

Unhappy hooker

And if you think this week was a tale of two hookers – spare a thought for Mitch Rein. He was in line for the spot – and even did a medical on Monday afternoon to prove that he was fit. He got a call on Monday night from the Blues to say thanks but no thanks. He wasn’t taken up as a shadow player because the Dragons had a game on the weekend.

Folau signs on the dotted line

We told you back in April that Israel Folau would stay in the 15-man game. This week he signed a three-year deal to remain with the Waratahs and Wallabies, with the flexible contract allowing him a lucrative stint in Japan.

Danny Weidler is a Channel Nine reporter

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