If you haven’t had the chance to do so just yet, find a way to watch a replay of last Friday’s Parramatta-Melbourne Storm match.
It was tough, hard and even a little bit dirty, and it made for great TV.
You could feel the enmity for the Storm coming through for the entire 80 minutes and you can only imagine what it was like inside Parramatta Stadium, with lots of Eels supporters who had been whipped into a seething frenzy all week, fuelled largely by the Sydney media, which has never needed an excuse to hate the Storm and even less so, after the salary cap fiasco earlier this year.
The Daily Telegraph has been front and centre of the Storm-bashing and full credit to it. A good newspaper understands its market and the Tele’s Garry Linnell is a good editor (and in the interests of full disclosure, a mate of ours at BackPageLead).
But after a week of being told how right was on their side, there was a sense of lawlessness about the way in which some of the Eels went after the Storm on Friday night. Jarryd Hayne is on report for head-butting Billy Slater and if the charge sticks, he won’t be part of the New South Wales team for next week’s State of Origin clash at Suncorp Stadium. The Blues face a hard enough task to win in Brisbane as it is. Without Hayne, they stand next to no chance.
But back to the events of Friday night. The game is already more than 48 hours old and Linnell’s hound dogs are still on the attack, with side-by-side stories in today’s Tele calling for Hayne’s charge to be withdrawn and for Slater instead to be suspended for his retaliatory forearm to Hayne a few moments after the (if you believe the writer) the headbutt that wasn’t. The writer may have been taking the p-ss, but you can never be quite sure.
Not only does Slater play for the hated Storm, but also for the equally despised Maroons, so this morning’s articles will no doubt be lapped up by an adoring and appreciative audience in the NRL’s New South Wales heartland.
But it’s time we let you in on a little secret. Linnell, the NRL’s new best mate, is no Sydneysider. He hails from the outskirts of Geelong. In other words, he’s as Victorian as the clocks at Flinders Street Station.
In a previous life, Linnell was an AFL writer with The Age and a damn good one at that. He also wrote Football Limited, one of the best sports books of the past few years as well as a biography of Gary Ablett senior, which while not authorised, was pretty close to the mark.
The man as responsible as anyone for the anti-Storm vitriol of the last week probably couldn’t tell you the name of six members of the Parramatta Eels. But he can name the past 30 Brownlow Medal winners — and the clubs they were recruited from.
The telling exchange between Storm skipper Cameron Smith and referee Tony Archer at the height of last Friday’s fireworks would suggest that the Melbourne players feel as though the whole world hates them.
Therefore, it would come as little comfort to know that one those chiefly responsible for fanning the flames, is actually one of their own.
*This was first published on Back Page Lead, a sports opinion website that provides sports content to Crikey.